Given that Franco could have opted to coast by on movie star mystique, the decision to write about the suburb of his upbringing is intriguing. But the author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories. The privileged, borderline sociopathic eighth-grade consciousness into which stories like "Killing Animals" and "Tar Baby" consign us is saturated in first-wave Nintendo games and an egregiously gleeful dosage of homophobia and puerile race-baiting that is exhausting, even in a collection where the average story is 10 pages long. Still, tales like "Camp" and the above-average "American History" manage to successfully construe bad-kid amorality as authenticity, which is more than can be said of "I Could Kill Someone," one of several stories that reads like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho fell into a Catcher in the Rye remix, or the colossal misfire that constitutes "Emily," written from the point of view of a teenage girl who performs carnal acts on every page. The overall failure of this collection has nothing to do with its side project status and everything to do with its inability to grasp the same lesson lost on its gallery of high school reprobates: there is more to life than this. (Oct.)
Actor Franco, perhaps best known for his roles in Spider-Man and Milk, makes his debut as a writer with this collection of 11 short stories about restless adolescents in Palo Alto, CA. Most involve experimentation with sex and drugs. Marijuana, especially, provides a backdrop, and sex is the source of both desire and guilt. His strongest offerings are two longer tales that focus on young women. In "Chinatown," Pam, who has a beat-up face, allows boys to do whatever they like with her—and they do. In "April," a girl is taken advantage of by one of her teachers. While the earlier stories suffer from a bland prose style and lack satisfying conclusions, the latter entries show a writer coming into his own. Franco does a good job of revealing a particular group of kids in a particular place, and his dialog crackles. VERDICT Recommended for readers not afraid to confront the realities of troubled teens, this book can be likened to Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, but for a younger generation.—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Bleak tales of growing up in the eponymous city.
Actor Franco's stories are impressive: crisp, spare, depressing. Numerous characters recur from story to story, sometimes appearing as narrators, other times as characters within someone else's narrative frame. Almost all are teenagers who drift from party to party, who break up friends and who look for a little action, anything to temporarily lift the ponderous boredom of their lives. What's missing are actions with any larger significance, though at times the more sensitive characters have a wistful awareness of this emptiness. In "Jack-O" narrator Michael drives his grandfather's old Cadillac DeVille into a wall, desperately hoping to get to some other reality "because this world sucks, and even if you are high it only lets you escape a little bit, it lets you escape enough that you know there could be something better, but it won't let you into that place." This black hole of meaninglessness drives the characters to do what they do. Their world is limited to getting high, having purposeless sex and plotting revenge on arrogant locker-room bullies who question their masculinity. These teens have perfected a patois of insult that aspires to the poetic but that ultimately reaffirms the vacuity within which they live. In "Killing Animals," the narrator recounts in chronological fragments all the animals he and his friends killed with a slingshot and BB gun, ultimately killing their own spirit as well. In "April in Three Parts," eighth-grader April begins a sexual affair with her 42-year-old soccer coach, one that trails off when she hits high school. "American History" recounts the trouble Jeremy gets into when his history teacher calls upon him to represent 1860s Mississippi and defend slavery in a debate—and Jeremy delights in blurring the line between historical rigor and personal belief.
A collection of beautifully written stories that are also uncompromisingly stark and somber.
The stories are raw and funny-sad, and they capture with perfect pitch the impossible exhilaration, the inevitable downbeat-ness, and the pure confusion of being an adolescent.”—Elle
“Spare and riveting… Franco’s ear for juvenile vernacular is like an Ouija board summoning the lost voices of Generation Z.”—O, the Oprah Magazine
"Compelling and gutsy.”—Meghan O’Grady, Vogue
“Startling and original.”—The Economist
“[Franco] ends up perfectly mirroring the undulations of a teenage mind.”—The New York Times Book Review