Palo Alto is a collection of short stories concerning teenagers who are your bottom-of-the-barrel type of people. There’s lots of sex, alcohol, drugs, and general life wasting going on. Franco scores a few points with me throughout the course of this book. I’m not so old yet that I can’t appreciate and get some laughs out of some of the childish expressions and subject matter that overwhelmingly permeate this collection. However, Franco also seems to be attempting to bring some more mature dialogue to the table, and in doing this he creates a rather unrealistic and entirely unbelievable narrative throughout much of his writing. The consistently delinquent and simple storytelling is spot-on, but then there will be certain phrases that surface out of nowhere, phrases an adolescent would never use. Some of these are poetics that demonstrate something above and beyond what an adolescent would conjure and some are just poor word choices.
Adolescence is a tough time for everyone, particularly with the cruel restrictions teens place on one another for fitting in. These restrictions on what people should be like and look like are basically an attempt to gain control during a turbulent time. James Franco’s short stories reflect this in the reckless lifestyles and the cruelties the characters impose on one another.
Although the characters don’t have much depth or redemption, it’s the meaning behind the stories that struck me. Each character is hollow and alone, and chemical and sexual stimulation can never fulfill that void of empty teenage existance. In fact, it usually deepens it in the long term. If you’re looking for something that isn’t so blunt and graphic with its depiction of teenage society, go elsewhere. If your looking for cute characters that are lovable and find redemption, go elsewhere. However, if your looking for an authentic depiction of the faceless, conformist teenage society, James Franco nails it with Palo Alto.