Palo Alto | Book Review

palo alto
Palo Alto by James Franco
Published by: Scribner, 2009
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fiction
Pages: 211
Rating: 5/5
Purchase it here

A fiercely vivid collection of stories about troubled California teenagers and misfits–violent and harrowing, from the astonishingly talented actor and artist James Franco.
Palo Alto is the debut of a surprising and powerful new literary voice. Written with an immediate sense of place–claustrophobic and ominous–James Franco’s collection traces the lives of an extended group of teenagers as they experiment with vices of all kinds, struggle with their families and one another, and succumb to self-destructive, often heartless nihilism. In “Lockheed” a young woman’s summer–spent working a dull internship–is suddenly upended by a spectacular incident of violence at a house party. In “American History” a high school freshman attempts to impress a girl during a classroom skit with a realistic portrayal of a slave owner—only to have his feigned bigotry avenged. In “I Could Kill Someone,” a lonely teenager buys a gun with the aim of killing his high school tormentor, but begins to wonder about his bully’s own inner life.

These linked stories, stark, vivid, and disturbing, are a compelling portrait of lives on the rough fringes of youth.


Palo Alto is a collection of intermixing short stories centered around agitated Californian teenagers in James Franco’s hometown. There’s raw violence, death, broken hearts, and self-destruction. That’s all that you need to know going into this novel.

I opened this book up with almost no knowledge about its content, and I believe that’s the best way to go into this one. I was hooked from the opening sentence – James Franco couldn’t have come up with a better first line to start this book piece of art.These short stories were remarkably unrefined and unsettling, but it perfectly captured the perturbation of being an adolescent. It felt so… real, I wondered as to whether or not this was James Franco writing stories about his own childhood. After finishing this, I felt emotionally drained.. but it felt great. In my opinion, that’s what makes a good book – one that pulls you and doesn’t let you go.

Related:   The Girl On The Train | Book Review

I’m hoping James Franco writes another book very soon, I’m eager to see what else his brilliant brain can come up with.

(ps. I’ve reread this novel three times already)

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Bri is the Harry Potter obsessed founder of Wondering & Wandering. When she's not blogging or traveling, you can usually find her in bed with a good book and a glass of wine.

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