Palo Alto by James Franco
September 21, 2014
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For years, Young Adult novelists have been on an endless quest to chronicle the teenage experience. Even Shakespeare wrote a play trying to capture the essence of two teenagers who fell in love at first sight. Adolescents today are familiar with The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Outsiders and anything by John Green. These successfully give insight into the teenage mind and experience. A new addition to this mix of successful young adult books is Palo Alto by James Franco.
Palo Alto is a series of vignettes told from the point of few of various youths in the city of Palo Alto, Calif. The collection of stories accounts their experiences as teenagers, including their struggles with family, school and friends. Franco successfully tackles real youth issues such as sex, drugs and drinking without it coming across as forced, but merely grasps the surface, failing to come up with anything new and show readers anything they have not yet seen.
Although some of the stories presented within Palo Alto are familiar, the voice in which Franco presents these stories is refreshing. He does not force anything or add any nonsense, he just writes. The vignettes, all with intertwining characters and plotlines, are each intended to be written from a different point of view to offer certain insights of the events within the novel. The writing style barely differentiates, and thus, each character sounds almost exactly the same, which adds to the idea that this is the cohesive voice that young adults often possess and creates the “slice of life” feeling.
His work has the right amount of teenage angst and nostalgia to relate to young readers, but however, lacks originality. The ideas are there, but not developed enough. The tone comes across as monotonous and bland. The book would have worked better if Franco stuck with one main character and storyline instead of switching around. From this, the novel suffers and lacks substance. Overall, the book is just okay. However, for a first time novelist, Franco’s writing is promising, as he is creative and has a strong voice. Evidently, he will have a career in writing. The influence of authors such as Hemingway and J.D. Salinger is evident in Franco’s writing debut, and proves his novel to be solid. As underwhelming as most of the stories may seem to some readers, they provide some insight to the teenage experience, and show strong potential for Franco’s writing future.