As an avid Stephen King follower that has read almost everything by the author, I have to begin this review by admitting that I find most of his modern output lives in the shadows cast by earlier, more horror-centric classics such as The Stand, Salem’s Lot and Christine. Don’t get me wrong though: I love the newer books and never fail to get into them proper but it’s rare that I can wax lyrical with the same praise that I had for the old stuff.
Joyland was an exception though. The book is short by Stephen King standards and – here in the UK at least – was published under the “Hard Case Crime” banner so it was a little different straight away. In fact, I’d somehow not heard of Joyland at all until I was given it as a Christmas gift back in 2013.
The story is short but powerful and contains a small splash of the supernatural but is largely grounded in reality and tells the story of Devin Jones, a young college student who takes a summer job at a carnival-style amusement park called Joyland. It is there that he meets new friends, has new experiences and tries to move on from the first girl to break his heart. There is a central plot strand running through Joyland that focuses on a series of unsolved, heartless murders – the last one occuring at Joyland – that Devin finds himself investigating but this isn’t really the main premise of the book.
Joyland is actually a story about love, being young and foolish and growing up. We’ve all been there at Devin’s age and through his eyes I was able to recall my own similar experiences, thoughts and heartache. I found that I really cared about the characters in this book – Devin especially – and wanted the best ending for them but as we know from real life, the ideal isn’t always possible and our naive, young selves have to learn these lessons along the road.
As I mentioned earlier, the book is short yet King still manages to squeeze a lot of emotion, vivid detailing and character development into such a limited space (283 pages). It packs a real punch without being a novel of three to four times the size and captured my interest so much more than many of his modern, bigger books. Most of all though, the story and characters are incredibly endearing and it was the kind of book that I genuinely didn’t want to finish because I simply couldn’t get enough of the world that Stephen King had created within the pages of Joyland.
Overall I would recommend Joyland to any Stephen King fan without hesitation but even if you aren’t familiar with his work then I would be just as firm with my recommendation because this is a great story with very relatable characters that anybody can enjoy without needing to be onboard with the horror/supernatural themes that often form the basis of King’s books.
In addition, this book has also brought the Hard Case Crime line of books to my attention so I now have a new avenue of reading to explore…