* CONTAINS SPOILERS
The cover for Joyland is one of the reasons I decided to read the book for King’s March. I was drawn to its bright colours and retro hard-boiled detective novel style, although I had to put the book face-down on my dresser so my kids wouldn’t get an eyeful of the redhead’s cleavage. The cover looks exciting and who can resist a story set at an amusement park? Fun with a capital F!
Heartbroken over a break-up, Devin Jones decides to take a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. Devin quickly becomes immersed in “carny” life learning the ropes from veteran Joyland employees. He also forms a close friendship with his co-workers, Erin and Tom. During the summer, Devin and his friends hear that a young girl was murdered years ago in the haunted house and her ghost still haunts the ride. Devin is fascinated by the story since the girl’s killer was never caught. The three friends decide to try the ride for themselves and Tom sees something, but won’t say whether it was the ghost of the girl. When summer ends, Devin decides to defer school and stay on at Joyland. He can’t stop thinking about the murdered girl and even though Erin has left for school, he enlists her help to research the case. During that time, he gets to know a single mom and her sick son, Mike. Eventually Mike reveals to Devin that he “knows” things and he knows about the girl in the haunted house. Meanwhile, Devin is crushing hard on Mike’s mom, Annie, the ice queen who slowly melts at Devin’s kindness. At a private visit to Joyland with Mike and Annie, the sick boy’s presence helps release the ghost of the dead girl. Then just when Devin figures out what happened to the girl, the killer reveals himself and is willing to do anything to keep Devin quiet — permanently.
Joyland is an excellent example of how Stephen King is a master storyteller. Like many of his other stories, Joyland is less about the scary mystery and more about the characters, in this case Devin Jones. The book is about growing up and fighting for the important things in life, such as friendship. I really enjoyed reading Devin’s experiences as a rookie carny and his summer of self-discovery.
Whether written purposefully this way or not, I’m glad the murder was secondary in Joyland because the mystery’s plot closely resembled your typical Scooby Doo episode. However, as unimaginative as the murder mystery was, it didn’t take anything away from the story.
Joyland is outstanding, a sincere and funny story about growing up one summer … with a thrilling murder mystery on the side. After not picking up a Stephen King book in years, I recently read the novella, Blockade Billy, which was pretty blah. But Joyland absolutely restored my faith in Stephen King as an iconic writer. Many years and books later, he’s still got it 100%.