Joyland by Stephen King
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.
Stephen King’s Joyland is the latest in his massive repertoire of what I will hereafter describe as “really cool reading stuff.” In this supernatural mystery crime thriller (yep, it is all of that), young Devin Jones, fresh out of his first year of college, heads down the eastern U.S. coastline to take a summer job at an old-fashioned amusement park called, you guessed it, Joyland. While trying to get over “that” girl, the devastatingly beautiful tease who became his first love and who broke his heart for the first time, Devin soon finds himself involved in the very peculiar life of a dying boy, his bombshell mother, and a decades old murder that all of them must somehow solve together, or else. What starts off as a curiosity – a folk legend and a hobby- for Devin and his Joyland friends, soon turns into a terrifying nightmare which will change Devin’s life forever.
3 – Characters well-developed.
One of the areas where I tend to find King lacking is in his character development. His stories and their connection with the reader are always at the forefront, so his characters seem to be there only as means to an end. What King wants for his reader is self-immersion – the stories should be happening to you. He does manage to accomplish this, better than most, but, still, characters are one of my favorite (and, in my opinion, one of the most important) aspects of any good novel, so I do look for their strengths, weaknesses, growth, etc. Joyland is a short novel, without much room for growth, but King does allow his main character, Devin, to experience certain major life events and to learn from them. Most of the minor characters (which includes everyone except Devin) are relatively flat throughout, except for Annie. Her story, along with that of her sick son, Mike, are the very touching secondary support that the primary story needs to make this book just complicated enough – just emotional enough- to touch the reader on a deeper level. Devin’s growth coincides with his relationship with these two, and Annie’s growth, too, happens only because Devin comes into their life. The other friends, park workers, and even the primary antagonist are sidelined for the majority of the story but, in the end, it really doesn’t matter.
4 – Excellent prose/style, enhancing the story.
Stephen King obviously knows how to write a story – his prolific body of work, permanent best-seller status, and massive personal wealth (not to mention all those page-to-screen adaptations) can attest to this. Typically, though, something about King’s writing will irk me. I sometimes find it a little bit too pedantic, or a little bit too graphic, or a little bit trying-to-hard-to-be-shocking. This time, though, King seems to be deeply in love with his story, and his writing reflects that. The book is a page-turner, not because it is an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller or horror novel, like so many of his others. Yes, you do want to find out what happens next, but it is because you are engrossed with Devin’s life. Sure, you realize there are things happening beneath the surface – secrets that are bound to be revealed, soon. But, also, you just want to be a part of Devin’s life. You are happy for him when he finds enjoyment in perhaps the most un-enjoyable job imaginable. You are thrilled when his relationship with Annie starts to progress, and when you learn more about Mike. King’s dialogue is believable, Devin’s awkwardness is believable, and the descriptions of people, places, etc. are interesting enough to engage the reader and drive the plot forward.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
Joyland is not as scary, nor as suspenseful, nor as gory, nor as crude as I expected it to be. I mean, this is King, after all. Where is the horror? Where are the blatantly graphic sexual episodes? I realize that I always anticipate something from King, and yet he always manages to surprise me. This has happened with every King book I’ve read, from Christine to Gunslinger, from Carrie to “The Body.” Although King sometimes uses the fantastical, the terrifying, and the unbelievable to get his point across, his stories are, at heart, very much about human nature and the human experience. Joyland is no exception; in fact, it might just be King at the peak of his storytelling ability. This book left me with a sense of nostalgia that I haven’t felt since seeing the Spielberg film Super 8 just a few years ago. It reminds one of “the good old days” – where innocence and experience begin to meet, where love has crushed us, but the future still shines bright; where mystery entices us and, despite our better judgment, we dive for it only to find ourselves in over our heads. The book was, really, a delight. It is sad, but hopeful; fantastic, but real; and current, but elegiac.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Crime Thriller, Mystery, Supernatural, Coming-of-Age.
“Age looked at youth, and youth’s applause first weakened, then died.”
“The mind defends itself as long as it can.”
“Even when what you’re holding onto is full of thorns, it’s hard to let go.”
“Some people hide their real faces. Sometimes you can tell when they’re wearing masks, but not always.”
“The last good time always comes, and when you see the darkness creeping toward you, you hold on to what was bright and good. You hold on for dear life.”