Title: Palo Alto: Stories
Author: James Franco
Genre: Fiction; Short Stories
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: October 19, 2010
You may know James Franco as the actor (producer and director) who starred as the son of Green Goblin in Spiderman or as the stoner in Pineapple Express or as the love interest of Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love (I haven't actually seen that movie but I gathered that was his role... I could be wrong).
Well, the actor who possesses quite the host of artistic outlets is now debuting his writing in a book of short stories based on the city he grew up in -- Palo Alto. I don't know anything about Palo Alto, so it's possible that what I got from the book is missing that little piece, but I wouldn't consider it a hindrance. His stories are (unfortunately) universal to teens all over the country. The stories are all somewhat related only in that they all focus on a core group of adolescents in Palo Alto. Each story is is narrated by a different person (with a couple duplicate narrators) and they make random appearances in each others' stories.
Now, Franco has received mixed reviews, but I really liked his style of writing. It was simple enough which made it engaging, but the messages were fairly profound. I really think, based on his literary style, that he will do well if he decides to write more. That being said, these stories were intense and explicit. They are certainly not for everyone, and I wouldn't recommend them for anyone who is very conservative. The teens in these stories are dealing with the drudgery that is adolescence, especially that of adolescents who get caught up in the worst situations with their peers. One of the ones that hit me the hardest was Chinatown which is actually broken up into three smaller stories. In this, a new Asian girl in town randomly loses her virginity to the narrator who then takes advantage of her by essentially pimping her out to boys throughout the city. She wearily complies, giving "blow jobs" to whomever she's told to, even having them line up one after another for her. This reminded me of a segment of Oprah in which they talked about this pandemic sexual attitude (or maybe lack of self-esteem) that has led to these self-deprecating and dangerous activities. I also know, due to my work in the field, that this type of behavior isn't uncommon in our adolescents, not even with just the "at risk" population.
Some of the stories involved issues of bullying. In American History a boy takes on the assignment in class of realistically acting out the role of a southern man during the civil war by pointing out the merits of slavery, only to later realize others didn't consider it an act and plan on avenging his words. In I Could Kill Someone, a victim of intense bullying makes the decision to kill a fellow classmate to end the torment.
Despite being about young adults, this is not a book for young adults. For those readers who dislike the aspect in young adult books of partying, sex, and drugs as regular activities, this may not be for you, because these stories are raw and in your face. But there's also a sad truth to these stories. One that makes me a little terrified to ever have a teenager of my own one day.
This was a quick read with each story averaging about 15 pages. And like I said, the writing style was engaging. As with any short story collections, there were a few where I'm not quite sure I *got* what the point of the story was, but overall I thought the book had a degree of acumen that Franco expressed well.
And on a happier note, if nothing else, this book allowed me to finally solve the mystery of the children's books author and illustrator I have been searching for years to identify!