Review: Apple: Skin to the Core

Title: Apple: Skin to the Core
Author: Eric Gansworth
Publisher: Levine Querido
Pages: 352
Availability: October 6, 2020
Review copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss

Summary: How about a book that makes you barge into your boss’s office to read a page of poetry from? That you dream of? That every movie, song, book, moment that follows continues to evoke in some way?

The term “Apple” is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside.”

Eric Gansworth is telling his story in Apple (Skin to the Core). The story of his family, of Onondaga among Tuscaroras, of Native folks everywhere. From the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds.

Eric shatters that slur and reclaims it in verse and prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word heartbreaking.

Review: Eric Gansworth explores identity along with Indigenous history of North America in general and that of his family and his personal history in particular. He explains that this story may not be for you, but he has chosen to speak. Readers are given the opportunity to participate in the story and learn or to close our eyes and ears. Gansworth doesn’t appear to be speaking to anyone specifically, but is choosing not to be silent. The publishing company is marketing this book to young adults and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s an absorbing memoir for me as an older reader. Though I think it has some crossover potential for young readers who have enjoyed Gansworth’s YA novels, I believe it will be appreciated more by adult readers. It very definitely has an older voice and tone.

Gansworth really delves into identity and how that has evolved and has been worn away in some cases through the efforts of the government. Some of those government actions were sterilization, removing children and disrupting culture via boarding schools, and destroying or limiting access to food and land. He shares an important and often ignored part of history. Although there are hard truths presented, his story is not just one of loss, but also one of survival.

He shares opens with information about nicknames such as Uncle Tomahawk (an Indigenous version of Uncle Tom), Hangs Around the Fort Indian, and Apple. All of these are names used by American Indians against each other and they all deal with identities in relationship to whiteness. Gansworth explores labels that he and others have used as he shares pieces of his past.

In some ways, this memoir is presented like a scrapbook. Gansworth has included some photos and his art along with a mix of writing that at times looks like prose and at times looks like poetry. This is not designed as a seamless narrative. He leaves gaps and doesn’t try to give a moment to moment recounting. He loosely connects things using the music related divisions, but it reminded me of someone pulling things out of a box and then telling one story after another as memories surface. 

Recommendation: Get it soon if you enjoyed Gansworth’s YA novels and/or have an interest in Indigenous history. It is not a typical young adult memoir, so as the author explained early on, Apple may not be for everyone. It’s definitely on the older end of YA and will likely be appreciated by many adult readers.