For the longest time, I had it in my head that Joyland was a graphic novel (aka, a glorified comic book), so I never seriously considered reading it. That impression was corrected one day when I was wandering through Target and saw it on the shelf. Curious, I picked it up, and discovered, to my joy, that it was not a graphic novel at all but a regular all-words novel. The synopsis sounded like it would be a good little haunted carnival story in the vein of Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I loved, so I bought it (along with N0S4A2, which I had heard a lot about).
In the summer of 1973, a UNH student named Devin Jones takes a temporary job at Joyland, a small amusement park in North Carolina. He lives at a boarding house with two other Joyland summer employees, Erin and Tom, with whom he becomes fast friends. They soon learn the tale of a young woman who, several years before, was murdered on Joyland’s haunted house ride; supposedly, her ghost still haunts the ride. Meanwhile, Devin meets a local woman, Annie, and her crippled son, Mike, and begins to get close to them.
When the fall comes around again, Erin and Tom return to their respective schools while Devin decides to continue to work at Joyland rather than returning to UNH. He eventually learns more about the murder at Joyland with Erin’s help, and finds himself more entrenched in the details than he could have imagined.
This was a great little book. It was different from most of the Stephen King books I’ve read, since there was only a minor focus on the supernatural rather than major, but I really enjoyed the “whodunit” aspect. I thought it was going to be pretty straightforward, but in true Stephen King style, there were lots of different threads that wove together to form the plot: sad threads, happy threads, scary threads, funny threads—everything that makes a truly well-rounded story was there. There was even a nice little heart-breaker at the end there, again in true SK fashion.
I loved Devin as the narrator. It’s always interesting for me to read books that are written from a guy’s point of view. Not just by a man, because plenty of books I read are written by men, but with a man as the first-person narrator. Even though it’s fiction, I like knowing that some of the same things that go through female narrators’ heads also go through male narrators’ heads, and that it’s not all boobs, cars, and steak all the time. I mean, in all seriousness, I know it doesn’t mean much since it’s fiction. But it does say something about the male author when he writes a young, male, first person protagonist/narrator like Devin.
I also really liked the owner of the boarding house, Mrs. Shoplaw. I love how good Stephen King is about drawing the minor characters with just as much love and care as the major ones, and Mrs. Shoplaw was a great example of that. Erin and Tom could have been my own friends, and the various carnies Devin meets at Joyland are reminiscent of the usual cast of characters you find in one of King’s ubiquitous small towns. And of course, Mike was delightful, as was Annie (once she warmed up, of course).
All in all, I quite enjoyed Joyland. It was something different from what I usually expect from Stephen King, but it was a nice change of pace! I would definitely recommend this one.by