Book Review: Stephen King’s Joyland

On July 11, 2013 by Bob Simms

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When I’m not watching movies (or binge watching TV), I enjoy reading a good book. Reading a good book, not listening to a good book like my compadres in crime Law and Moreno, but actually reading it. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King and pride myself in reading (and owning) every piece of fiction (and non-fiction) they guy has published over the last 35 years. King’s latest novel JOYLAND is a return to form for King, while also venturing into some new territory. But unlike his usual focus on horror, King gives us a splash of mystery mixed in with the supernatural, which is partly due to publishing through Hard Case Crime, a publishing company specializing in page-turning crime and mystery novels.  So is JOYLAND worth picking up and reading this summer? You bet your ass it is.

JOYLAND is King at his best. Not only does he provide a quickly-paced coming-of-age story about a college kid working at an amusement park for a summer, he also manages in to throw in a believable and captivating subplot of the supernatural when he stumbles across an unsolved murder mystery and the ghost who can’t leave the park until said murder is solved. Where JOYLAND excels is how perfectly King describes being a 21 year old college student during the summer just after a hard break-up. We’ve all been there at some point or another (as shitty as it is, its part of growing up and is totally unavoidable), and King puts you back there as we see it through the eyes of Devin Jones. So mad props to King’s ability to bust out a completely believable and compelling coming-of-age story… it’s like STAND BY ME, but for the next chapter in life.

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The other angle I loved about JOYLAND is the setting—you’re quite literally thrust into the life of carnies and amusement park workers in an era where Disney and Six Flags didn’t control everything (the book is set in the late 70s). Through the eyes of a greenie, we’re able to get an inside glimpse into the carnie world and I’ll tell you this much, this shit is simply fascinating. I actually visited a non-corporate Amusement Park in the middle of reading this book and felt like I knew exactly what was going on behind the scenes. Even if it’s all 100% bullshit, King tells it in a way that is believable and fun to read. Who knew a book about carnies could be so goddamn engrossing!

But it’s not just about mending broken hearts and working a summer job, but it’s also about Jonesy’s obsession with solving the murder of a girl who was killed on the Haunted House ride years before, and that’s where King returns to the territory he’s niched out for himself over the years: the haunted supernatural. While it’s not as horrific or as in-your-face as a straight-up horror novel (this is a crime/mystery novel, after all), it still delivers what you want in a ghost story from King and packs quite the impactful punch in the process. I enjoyed the ghost, the mystery, and the reveal at the end, and really… what more could I really ask for?

There’s also a whole sub-plot of Jonesy making friends with a sick kid down the beach from the park and his MILFy mom, and even this part of the story is compelling and fun to read. King does horror well, but he also does relationships well, and he’s at the top of his game with this story. Pretty much, I loved every part of this book from beginning to end–hell, even the damn cover is awesome! And talk about a story that would work great as a book–it’s inevitably going to happen, but I’d wager they’d be able to bring it to the big screen with flying colors without much left on the cutting room floor.

So if you’re looking for a perfect little summer read (and at 245 pages, it’s quite “little” for a King novel), then I highly advise you check out the supernatural mystery JOYLAND, where the fun never stops and you won’t be disappointed.   And… if you must… it’s probably not a bad book to listen to either.

Grade: A

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One Response to “Book Review: Stephen King’s Joyland”

  • floyd

    sweet I was looking into getting this, def will now. Keep the book reviews coming I got all day at work and love audiobooks