Category Archives: Native American Literature

Read 228 of 2021. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Title: Jonny Appleseed
Author: Joshua Whitehead
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551527253
Genre: LGBTQ+ Literary Fiction, Native American Literature,
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Jonny Appleseed decides to come back home to his mother after her husband dies. Jonny is a Two-Spirit Inidigiqueer “glitter princess” and has about a week leading up to his journey.  In that week Jonny goes through the entire gamut of emotions – love, hate, loathing, trauma of growing up on the rez – personal and collective, and more than anything about his dreams and aspirations.

What I loved about this book is the focus of course on everything not-colonial, even love, more so love. The book is about Jonny and the women in his life as well – his kokum (grandmother) his friends, his mother, Peggy, and as well as his Tias – the one person from where all the queer loving comes and nestles in his heart and soul. Their interactions with Jonny are also governed by day to day activities – from a meal to a recipe to how the whites try and erase the Native American community. There is so much going on in this short book that at times I just had to shut it and process everything Whitehead was trying to communicate.

Add to this there is technology and how Jonny uses it to facilitate sex work, allowing lonely men to somewhat fetishize his culture and where he comes from, and in all of this there is trauma and pain and healing that Whitehead manages to write about in the most brutal and also sublime manner.

Whitehead’s writing doesn’t cut corners on emotions. He says it the way it is – intense, with racism, sexism, homophobia, and how it impacts indigenous minds, hearts, and souls in addition to what they go through.  All of this is told to us through Jonny. You root for him. You want his life to be better. You want him to meet his mother as soon as possible. You don’t want him to suffer. But he must follow his heart and destiny, and things will happen, but in all of this, there is togetherness, a celebration of love and longing, and how to finally find your roots and identity.

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange

Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Publisher: Vintage 
ISBN: 9780525436140
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There’s so much happening in There There, but not once did it feel overwhelming or confusing. I could understand each character, their motivations, and the plot as well, right till the end when it all unravels. Actually., it starts unravelling quite early on. As early on as the third chapter or so.

There There (title referring to a quote by Gertrude Stein, which is out of context, but works here) by Tommy Orange is not only important because of the socio-political issues it raises or the ones that are deep-rooted in the novel. It is also important because it is written so well and needs to be read widely. There are 12 characters whose lives are interwoven. They are all Native Americans, living or have lived in Oakland, California. They are all dealing with identity issues, and want to make more sense of their lives, and do better at living. And all their stories and lives converge and meet at the Big Oakland Powwow.

It is a Canterbury Tales like novel, with each narrative unfolding, and un-layering till we get to the end. At the heart of it though it is about Native Americans and their lives – their stories, the injustices, the motivations, the histories deep buried and sometimes unacknowledged, the need to fit in so strongly because that’s what’s been drummed into your head, and about the marginalized and the invisible lives they lead.

Each chapter is of course focused on one character, and yet it never feels disjointed or separate. It all magnificently comes together in the manner of how families are formed – sometimes by birth, and sometimes just. Dene Oxedene’s track in the book is pretty much what the book is about – he is making a documentary on the lives of Native Americans, as they speak about their experiences of living in Oakland.

Tommy Orange’s writing is direct and cuts to the bone. He shows and tells. He does it all. He is a traditional storyteller, and also breaks form multiple times in the course of the book. Yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming to follow lives of 12 people, but it is a ride you want to be on gladly, and understand, comprehend, and make sense of the world we live in.

“The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we’ve been doing all along to get us here…we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and hand-woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”

Do you need to say anything more with this imagery on paper? All I can say is that read this book. Read it with an open mind and heart. I am eagerly looking forward to Tommy Orange’s next.