Jonas and David are seventeen. Both put women in mind above all else. And they have cancer. They share one room, their anxieties and fears, and, increasingly, their world in the oncology ward of the University Hospital Cologne. As family and friends drift more and more around them, the two boys grow closer and feel safe and understood together.
First author Philip Lutz tells the story in his youth novel Malibu (Amazon link The story of two missing teens. As a sort of gay version of “Destiny is a lousy traitor,” you learn a lot from the bleak and suicidal daily lives of boys with cancer. This means that you don’t learn much because not much happens there. With lying down and vomiting due to chemotherapy and not being able to eat anything and talk to the bed neighbor, much of the day is already full.
Fortunately, the novel knows how to calmly describe the daily life of cancer patients and does not try to “excite it” or make it amazing with unusual events. So, while nothing actually happens, the Malibu can sweep and move around in places. The original way boys deal with despair is heartbreaking.
The suffocating experience of youth
The novel “Malibu” was published in March 2022 by Berliner Querverlag
In fact, this stage in the lives of the two young men is characterized by the development, exploration of the world and themselves, and the search for their place in the world. But Jonas and David are turning on themselves and each other. They are torn between “no desire for the world” and a longing for a normal life. Together they daydream about a healthy teenage life, and the things they plan to do together after beating cancer.
It remains unclear where their fascination with the beach in Malibu came from, which has become a place of longing for both and a travel destination to express hope in post-cancer. It appears to be taken from an American road movie from the late ’90s. But this is not bad in the genre of youth novels. This is how young people build their world of static pieces and references. But this is where the first confusion running through the novel becomes clear: When does it happen?
The whole thing doesn’t read like a new edition, but it does feel more like a book from ten or even twenty years ago. Pop culture references make the novel’s script elusive. Narrator Jonas listens to songs from Rihanna’s debut album, old “Domain” episodes (on the podcast), refers to Kai Pflum, uses Spotify but also has a “folder” of carnival music on his phone, mentions Justin Bieber’s haircut from late 2010, “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “Crazy” (2000!) are mentally within reach—all in all, at least unusual for a 17-year-old.
Between times yesterday
Author Philip Lutz does himself and his story a disservice by not explicitly dating and acting explicitly on the characteristics of the chosen present. This is how it looks to work between times, but without being timeless. But all current youth literature has a very short half-life and can look outdated due to minimal technical advances such as changing like buttons. Allow “Malibu” to try to make itself somewhat independent of this selection.
Back to the topic: In a series with other stories about cancer in young adults, such as “The Red Ribbon Club” or “Surviving the Dog”, the novel can be seen emotionally from one side. On the other hand, this comparison also reveals its weaknesses.
Malibu has one of the protagonists who narrates himself in the first person. One might still think that a 17-year-old is actually writing his story in his own words – even if, as mentioned, the question remains as to what year he was born. But the problem is that the 17-year-old speaks too much and too little broken language. Occasional example: In a total of 64 places, i.e. every third page, a letter “smiles” or says something “with a smile” or something. It would be desirable to increase diversity in the language.
Fear of their own homosexuality
The relationship between the protagonist and the narrator and his perversion are still in the past as well, perhaps the most urgent thing to complain about. Why does a 17-year-old from Kowloon fear his sexuality in the 2022 novel? Jonas’ narration and behavior are highly restrained and restrained. While sexual self-determination and freedom and expression currently find very progressive models, particularly among those approaching adulthood, especially on TikTok or in series like “Euphoria”, “Malibu” unfortunately reads too little and binary.
So what now? Read or not? As an alternative to the same stories he likes and loves for young people, “Malibu” is welcome. This is definitely something that can be bought and given to nephews, nieces and everyone in between. But only if it doesn’t stop there. Then please also something to advance more courageously.
Philip Lutz: Malibu. a novel. 184 pages. via publishers. Berlin 2022. Paperback: €16 (ISBN 978-3-89656-312-5). E-book: 9.99€