Joshua Whitehead’s two-spirit Indigenous novel Jonny Appleseed wins Canada Reads 2021

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      One book has been crowned the 2021 champion of CBC’s annual book debate.

      After four days of discussion and debate—as well as laughter and tears—in Toronto from March 8 to 11, Joshua Whitehead’s debut novel Jonny Appleseed was named the top book for Canadians to read.

      Host Ali Hassan moderated the debate between five celebrity panelists who advocated for their chosen Canadian books, based on the theme of One Book to Transport Us.

      Each day of the competition saw the panelists eliminate one of five books chosen as finalists.

      Mohawk filmmaker and actor Devery Jacobs defended and presented a successful case for Jonny Appleseed, published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press, which particularly resonated on a personal level for her.

      Here is Jacobs making her emotional final argument for the book:

      “I felt a lot of pressure representing two-spirit and Indigiqueer communities,” she said. “I’m Mohawk. I'm also queer. But It's so much bigger than myself and I just feel so humbled and so honored to have been a part of this.”

      Whitehead is two-spirit and a Oji-nêhiyaw Indigiqueer scholar from Peguis First Nation who conveys the unique experiences of young queer Indigenous people.

      “This means the world to me,” Whitehead said. “I’m holding this as a legacy and a fire to keep burning for all Indigenous folks across Turtle Island and I dedicate it to all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people and their families. I think the book is timely and needed for Canadian readers to see what it means for Indigenous peoples to be living under the weight of ongoing settler colonialism, the ways in which we have been harmed, injured profoundly, but also the ways in which we are powerful beyond measure and hold the highest registers of love for our communities, ourselves, and for this land we call Turtle Island.”

      Jonny Appleseed follows a two-spirit Indigiqueer man who faces his past when he returns home to his reserve for his stepfather’s funeral.

      Jonny Appleseed previously won the Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction, was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

      The other books that Whitehead’s novel competed against were (in order of elimination):

      • Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee (which won the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction in November), championed by singer-songwriter Scott Helman, who happened to learn live on air that he had been nominated for a 2021 Juno Award for the Music Video of the Year;
      • The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk, championed by Olympian and broadcaster Rosey Edeh; 
      • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots, championed by Kim’s Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (the cancellation of his sitcom was announced on the same day that Canada Reads began);
      • Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, championed by chef, TV host, and recording artist Roger Mooking.

      Canada Reads is available on the free CBC Gem streaming service and CBC Listen, and teaching guides for books are available on

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.