Devery Jacobs, championing Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, wins Canada Reads 2021
And then there was one: actor and filmmaker Devery Jacobs has won Canada Reads 2021. In a gripping finale, the book she championed, novel Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, survived the final elimination vote on March 11, 2021.
Jacobs successfully presented her case about why the 2018 novel Jonny Appleseed — a coming-of-age story about a two-spirit person named Jonny trying to put his life back together following the death of his stepfather — best fits the Canada Reads 2021 theme as the "one book to transport us."
Jonny Appleseed, Whitehead's debut novel, is the first book by an Indigenous author to win Canada Reads. The book was previously 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. It also won the Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction.
"I feel so honoured to have defended this book in the first place. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead touched me deeply in my own personal life, and also the character Jonny has helped guide me through this process. I'm also just so glad that I got to defend this book on such a great platform and also bring attention to the author Joshua Whitehead's incredible writing," Jacobs said after winning Canada Reads 2021.
"I felt a lot of pressure. I feel like I'm representing so much more than myself in this competition. I'm representing communities. I'm Mohawk. I'm also queer...it's also representing two-spirit and Indigiqueer communities in this. So it's so much bigger than myself and I just feel so humbled and so honoured to have been a part of this and now to call Jonny Appleseed the winner of Canada Reads."
The runner-up was Butter Honey Pig Bread by Halifax author Francesca Ekwuyasi, a debut novel which tells the interwoven stories of three Nigerian women, Kambirinachi and her twin daughters Taiye and Kehinde, who are torn apart by a traumatic experience. Butter Honey Pig Bread was defended by chef, TV host and recording artist Roger Mooking.
Jacobs won in a 3-2 vote on the final day.
"While I really love Jonny Appleseed to my core, pun intended, I honestly never imagined that I could do it justice enough to make it this far in Canada Reads. But I feel like I've had a driving force behind me during this debate. It's the perfect novel with poetic imagery, gripping heartbreak and honest writing that lifted my spirit," Jacobs said during the Canada Reads 2021 finale.
Whitehead made an emotional appearance after the vote to congratulate his champion. In a post-show interview with CBC, the author said the win "means the world to me" and dedicated it to "all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people and their families."
"Devery and I talked quite a bit about this in terms of transportation and basically I think it's timely and needed specifically for two-spirit texts and also for Indigenous texts for Canadian readers to be transported into the under belly, what it means for Indigenous peoples to be living under the weight of on-going settler colonialism," said Whitehead to CBC.
"I hope they get to see also the ways in which we have been harmed, injured profoundly, but also the ways in which we are powerful beyond measure and also just hold the highest registers of love for our communities for ourselves and also for this land we call Turtle Island."
Jacobs is an award winning actor and filmmaker. Her breakout leading role in Rhymes for Young Ghouls landed her a nomination for a Canadian Screen Award. Jacobs is known for her performances in Netflix's The Order, CTV's Cardinal and Amazon Prime Video/STARZ's American Gods, an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel.
"Devery is a marvel. I love what she does. I love her performances in American Gods and out of them, and I cannot wait to see what she does next. Keep fighting the good fight. I'm so glad to have been part of your career. You're brilliant," said Gaiman.
Jacobs was steadfast in her passionate defence of the book during Canada Reads 2021. She noted how, while all five of the contending books were well written and dealt with important issues, she believed that Jonny Appleseed was the one book that all Canadian should read.
"Jonny is real. He exists within me and within all of us. After reading this book, Jonny dares us to be vulnerable to challenges, to reflect and to heal from our own experiences," Jacobs said during the finale. "[Jonny] embodies the beauty, love and resilience of two-spirit, Queer and Indigenous people."
Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw Indigiqueer scholar from Peguis First Nation. His work seeks to centre the unique experiences of queer Indigenous young people. His debut book, full-metal indigiqueer, is a collection of experimental poems that aim to provoke discussion and debate.
The other three books were eliminated earlier in the week. Memoir Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee and championed by Scott Helman was eliminated on Day One, followed by fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk championed by Rosey Edeh on Day Two, and genre novel Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots championed by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee on Day Three.
It was a week full of agreement for the literary merit of all the contending books, but also featured some thoughtful exchanges and criticisms.
This year's show was hosted by Ali Hassan.
The Canada Reads 2021 champions and their chosen books are:
- Rosey Edeh champions The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
- Scott Helman champions Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee
- Devery Jacobs champions Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
- Paul Sun-Hyung Lee champions Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
- Roger Mooking champions Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi