Teen Ink ARC Review: A Long Way From Douala by Max Lobe | Teen Ink

Teen Ink ARC Review: A Long Way From Douala by Max Lobe

October 8, 2021
By nataliedc12 PLATINUM, Crafton, Pennsylvania
nataliedc12 PLATINUM, Crafton, Pennsylvania
43 articles 7 photos 19 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If nobody is listening, am I making any sound at all?" ~ Alice Oseman

A promising own-voices novella centered around grief, class, violence and finding yourself in a country that no longer feels like home, A Long Way From Douala by Max Lobe features witty prose and a unique, engaging story that is unfortunately undermined by its shallow storytelling and derogatory and, at times, offensive language.

Upon picking up this ARC, I was immediately enticed by its fascinating synopsis - a boy, Jean, and his childhood friend, Simon, traverse the violent terrain of their native Cameroon in search for his runaway brother - as well as its absolutely STUNNING cover. As I began the story, I couldn’t pull myself away from the amusing narrative, descriptive prose and unpredictable shenanigans that befall the protagonists. I loved the familiarity with which the narrator spoke and the bits of Camfranglish - a slang that combines elements of English, French and several Cameroonian dialects - sprinkled throughout the translation allowed me to sink even further into Jean’s tumultuous life. Unfortunately, it was about halfway into the book that my awe started to fade and I began to see the underlying faults of this tale.

Towards the middle of the novella, I started to pick up on the offensive manners in which all of the women in this story are portrayed and treated. Almost all of the women are either depicted as helpless, clueless, “crazy” motherly figures or desperate, oversexualized teenagers. By the end of the story, I couldn’t name a single female character who was painted in a positive light, a far cry from the several male characters who gain our sympathy and respect throughout the story. After noticing this and encountering an extremely upsetting chapter in which a transgender character is described using disgusting, offensive language (being called a transphobic slur many times over), it was made clear to me that this novel wasn’t written with the care and love that I had initially thought it was, at least in regards to its more marginalized characters.

In the end, I rated this coming-of-age novella a mere 2 stars. While I wanted to give this story the same love and attention that I had thought it had given to its own subject matter, I couldn’t bring myself to get past its harmful language and stereotypical portrayals. In addition, the novel fails to deliver the heartfelt message it strives to impart, as its passive main character, poorly-developed romance and, frankly, dissatisfying ending made its oh-so-important themes fall flat, at least, for me. While I can’t say I recommend A Long Way From Douala, I’m glad I was able to read this diverse, own-voices story, shortcomings aside. If you’re looking to read from own-voices LGBTQ+ literature by those of African descent, I highly recommend the works of acclaimed authors Akwaeke Emezi and Rivers Solomon. In the meantime, I hope this review was helpful - as always, happy reading!

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