Book Review: Palo Alto by James Franco



             We all have ambitions, dreams, and aspirations. Some of us lose them along the way, some have them pile up as they grow older, and some, like James Franco, achieve them, and then some. Aside from his dynamic acting career, he revealed his passion for art, film directing, music (he sings in a musical collaboration with his friend Tim O’keefe), and love for education by applying for numerous degrees at many prestigious universities (ever heard of UCLA or Yale?). So when I heard that Franco had published a book, I was more than excited to finally get a sneak peak into this fascinating man’s mind. And boy, did I see some crazy things.
              His book Palo Alto, which mainly consists of many short stories, revolved around the lives of various teenagers living in California in Palo Alto, the place where Franco originally grew up. At first, the stories seem disjointed, starting off with a young convict who had an unfortunate hit and run accident in “Halloween”, to a lonely girl who’s job is to watch clips of the moon over and over in “Lockwood”. As the story progresses, however, one can draw parallels between the different characters in each short story. Sometimes, certain characters would even recur in other short stories, like Roberto who was first described by a sad, confused girl in “Emily”, then was seen again in “China in three parts” as the handsome drunken guy.
                  What brought the characters- and subsequently the stories- together was simply their uninterested, bored personalities, not to mention their excessive love for illegal drugs and drinking. Franco displays the different teenagers in a different light than what is expected from the ‘typical California young adults’. Instead, we are presented with dark personas, sometimes bordering psychotic in the case of “I Could Kill Someone”, who want nothing from life than to find out why they were born, and what their purpose in life was.
                  Sometimes we read books and stories that leave us feeling satisfied having primarily given us exactly what we wanted, be it romance or mystery or horror or a little bit of everything. However, Franco leaves his readers with a sense of emptiness that sends the mind reeling and the thoughts and contemplations running like a truck rolling down a steep hill with broken brakes. How does he do it? Well, simply by creating a world that is closer to reality than any other fictional story out there. Granted, not all of us have lived in neighborhoods where the norm was teenagers carrying guns, committing suicide, starting fights and smoking, but it is undeniably true that, despite of our different backgrounds, we have all gone through the confusion that is inevitable to the coming of age of every young teenager.  He fills his short stories with gore, raw drunken emotions, deep and dark teenage thoughts laced with angst and depression, and the primitive sexual tension between the teens of America at that particular age.
                    Franco appeals to the feelings of his readers by slipping phrases and sentences in his writing that makes one involuntarily stop and think: ‘I remember feeling like that when I was seventeen.’ He intertwines his characters’ unusual actions with snippets of their deepest inner thought- which at times might even be irrelevant to the story- like “I wish i had a girlfriend. Or someone,” in ‘I Could Sill Someone’, or even “Sitting in the sun I felt empty. I was a black center in the middle of all nature.” in Yosemite.
                   If you are ready to go on a journey of deep exploration and dark contemplation  of life, I highly recommend this brilliant book, as it will definitely leave you with a million thoughts running through your head, ready to be explored and expressed in a any way possible.
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