Stephen King: Joyland

Hi again. Time for a book review, yay! And a King one at that.

When I heard that Stephen King was releasing a book - Joyland - that had to do with murder, ghosts, and theme parks, I was thrilled. I love murder mysteries (hence my loyalty to the deceased Agatha Christie), I love horror built around ghosts (which feels like the most believable kind of horror, to me anyway), and I think that theme parks/amusement parks/carnivals - however you want to call them - are the perfect setting for anything horror. They have so much life flowing through them that there are as many happy memories in them as there are chilling histories. In carnivals, ghosts are inevitable.

So when 06/04/13 came around, and my preordered copy came in the mail as a gift from my boyfriend, I couldn't wait to start reading it. Of course, I was working on another book that is way longer and more complex to read at the time (and I have yet to finish), so I didn't get the chance to read Joyland until my flight to California. I finished it in about 3 sittings, though, and the reason is simple: King knows how to write.

 Now, I'm picking and choosing my words pretty wisely here. My previous book review happened to be of another King book, Rose Madder, which I enjoyed for the most part, but didn't find to be an overall, flawless winner for me. In that review, I also mention how I've had good and bad reads from King. What I want to clarify here is this: King's interests and mine overlap at times, but they aren't in total sync the way, for example, my interests and the aforementioned Agatha Christie's are (or were - I'm not sure how to put it since she passed quite some time ago). Based off my experience with his work, I enjoy the stories where King builds complex relationships between characters, and throws them about in a world that is realistic but haunted by some type of fantastical form of horror, that I find interesting. That sounds terrible, doesn't it?

I did not like Christine because an angry, possessed car was too ridiculous for me - who does not care for cars in the first place - to be scared by. I did not like Carrie because it was essentially about a high school girl who was bullied and had the telekinetic powers to put everyone in their place (or grave). Peer pressure and cars don't ring well enough with me to convince me that I need to be scared of them.

With that being said, one thing all of King's works have in common is that they are written in such a simple, yet engrossing, way that even if your interest in the subject matter isn't there - and even if the book, by its end, is still not very satisfying - you never find yourself really struggling to read it, at least not the way you normally would. With Joyland, the content was a mix of everything I love, so reading it was an absolute pleasure. As an aspiring writer, I found a lot of motivation for improvement in my own writing from reading Joyland. King's words tell so much without being overly descriptive or lengthy, and they keep the story moving forward at every moment. That is what I really came to admire about him after finishing this novel.

Before I say anymore, let's take a look at the book itself.

The front cover of the book.

King decided to work with Hard Case Crime for the release of Joyland and, additionally, went a different route in terms the novel's release format: rather than the expected hard cover, King went with paperback from the start to pay homage to pulp fiction paperbacks. I was thrilled about this because I wanted to read the book right away, but hate hard cover books as they are a hassle to read (and a pain in the ass to store), not to mention expensive.

The paperback of Joyland has a telling cover, nicely sized pages, and pleasant font/spacing. I know a lot of paperbacks tend to either have small pages with jam-packed, inky font, or large pages with thin, lace-y font that's spaced out, making the price of the book even worse than it already would be (do you remember the days when paperbacks were $6-$8, and not a solid $15+? ._. ).

The back cover of the book.

Although the official price of the book - as evident above - is $13, my boyfriend got it for less since he preordered it for me. I can't recall how much less, though, so I can't include that information here.

A closeup of the pricing and publisher information.

Now onto the story itself.


When I started writing this review, I realized I never wrote out a list of important characters in the book, and had to start flipping through pages to refresh my memory of their full names. I didn't realize how many there were until I did this, because you learn about the characters with such sufficient detail - and at such a comfortable pace - that you don't even realize you've just become beyond acquainted with 10+ fictional people. Anyway, here we go.

This story revolves around the character, and narrator, Devin Jones as he recalls not only his first heartbreak, but the course of memorable events that this heartbreak sets off. He is employed and eventually fully respected by Joyland owner Bradley Easterbrook, he is befriended and taught by Carolina Spin-keeper Lane Hardy, he is befriended in a way that goes beyond friendship and into family by soon-to-be couple Erin Cook and Tom Kennedy, and he is fascinated by park-ghost Linda Gray. Amongst this web of relationships buds more, as he is told eerily true fortunes by the park's fortune-teller, Rosalind Gold, is bullied by team leader Eddie Parks, and crosses paths with the boy in the wheelchair and his mother along the beach, Mike and Annie Ross.

I don't want to go into summarizing the story, so I'll give you the plot in a nutshell: as Devin Jones recovers from his first broken heart, he gains employment at a local theme park, Joyland, where he learns about the murder of park-ghost Linda Gray and eventually aims to name her mystery killer. He develops important relationships, both strange and comforting, along the way. Essentially the story is told by Devin himself in the future, as he thinks back on the most memorable summer/fall of his life.

As I mentioned earlier, Joyland depicts King's mastery over writing beautifully. I find that he has a knack for writing in the first-person - where spoken-language plays the star role - as he is able to inject the text with life and attitude through this narration. Really, voice is King's specialty. This first-person narration is actually - well, besides the beach setting - something that Joyland and my favorite King novel, Duma Key, have in common.

Another aspect I enjoyed in this novel was King's attention to detail in terms of the park setting and atmosphere. The park is brought to life through its mascot Howie - the deceased dog of the park's owner - which in itself  perfectly portrays the idea I mentioned earlier: that theme parks are excellent canvases for haunting stories due to all the life and - inevitably - death that they encompass. The story as a whole is further brought to life through the "carny talk," the beach at Heaven's Bay (appropriately named), and the inclusion of an entirely fictional setting, Professor Nako's office. Each detail further grounds the reader into the story - making it one of those reads that keeps you up all night.

One of the themes whose continuation I particularly appreciated in the novel was the theme of flight, carried through the notorious Carolina Spin, the Jesus kite, and Mike's ashes as they are tossed into the wind. This flight isn't limited to wings and soaring above clouds - it also consists of freedom, movement over a length of passed time, and one's existence not bound by the body.

As an avid mystery reader, I had my eyes ready to make note of any red flags for who the murderer might be. What I liked is how King leads and misleads throughout the story. I love how Devin and Eddie Parks, Joyland bully, actually have a conversation about Gray's murderer hiding the evidence, a tattoo on his hand, by wearing gloves - gloves just like Eddie's own pair, which he shows Devin at the end of their conversation. When Eddie nearly dies from a heart attack but is resuscitated by Devin, Devin finds himself tearing Eddie's gloves off. He realizes that their conversation pushed him to think that Eddie - who always wore gloves - may have been the murderer, keeping his gloves on at all times to hide the potential evidence. Instead, all he discovers is that the rumors about Eddie are true - he really does have psoriasis on his hands, and wears the gloves to protect them.

The fur: I LOVE the fur. It's not that I like the idea of making kids happy by deceiving them in over-sized costumes. It's that I love how King inches this topic into the story. All we hear about is "the fur," and how it's the one thing no one wants to have dumped on them, until finally Devin learns what "the fur" is by having to put it on. And he loves it. He loves wearing the Howie costume and dancing to cheer up the children at Joyland. And I love it, too, because it not only becomes this important role at the park through Devin's enjoyment of it, but it becomes a powerful one - one that truly does sell fun, which is, as owner Bradley Easterbrook points out, the ultimate mission at Joyland.

Lastly, I love King's nod to one of his older, well-loved novels (also about ghosts and, coincidentally, going to be revisited this November through a release of a sequel) The Shining through the character of Mike Ross. Mike has the ability to read people's thoughts at times, but also to see the spirits of those who have passed. In this novel, his gift is called "the sight" as opposed to "the shine," but they are similar 'powers' to each other nonetheless. Eventually Mike not only sees Linda Gray's ghost, but sees her "cross over into the light" (shout out to all of my fellow Ghost Whisperer addicts - I could not resist). It is ultimately Mike's "sight" that saves Devin's life at the end of the novel, when he is paid an unexpected visit by now former-bully Eddie Parks. I think that was one of the unexpected events in the plot that I liked the most - the fact that Eddie Parks, the guy who gives Devin hell at Joyland, is ultimately the one who saves him, albeit indirectly. Perhaps because of Devin's decision to not only visit him in the hospital, but to bring a picture of the woman from his work area at Joyland, thinking it may bring him some happiness before learning that it's actually a picture of Eddie's ex-wife. It's the thought that counts, though, isn't it?


There actually are a few things that I either never understood the purpose of or found too predictable in this novel.

The first has to do with the predictions given to Devin by park fortune-teller Rosalind Gold. She makes the important prediction that Devin will meet a little girl with a doll and a young boy with a dog. Well, he ends up meeting both - the boy with the dog, in particular, ends up being Mike, who plays a crucial role in the story. So his inclusion in the prediction makes more than enough sense to me.

My problem is the little girl in the first half of the prediction.

Devin saves her from choking on a hot dog, and he's featured in the newspaper and thanked by the family for it, but afterwards, the little girl - as far as I can tell - plays no further role. It's as if King puts her there for the sole purpose of verifying Rosalind's predictions. I personally find it, I guess, cheap when a character and event are thrown into a story for the seemingly sole purpose of pushing the plot forward. I could be wrong, but I really can't figure out what bigger purpose this girl might serve.

Other events I couldn't figure out were Linda Gray's appearance to Tom and Freddy Dean's involvement in Devin's ability to finally put together who the murderer is. I know that Linda Gray appears to those who least expect it, but is that really the only reason she appears to Tom? Is it meant to show that not only Devin, but Erin, too, is quietly suspicious and afraid of/fascinated by the park-ghost's presence? As for Freddy Dean, he and Lane Hardy are visually and verbally inspected by Devin during Mike's day at Joyland. His attention switches between the two, and then, TADA! He figures out that Lane Hardy is the killer. I am going to say now that while I am an avid mystery reader, I am also a weak at that - one who can rarely determine who the killer is without the author straight-up telling me. This may be a reason I'm confused by Dean's inclusion during the event that dawn's the killer's identity over Devin; if anyone can shed light on it, please do in the comments below!

Although I like Mike's character overall - especially when he's finally in Joyland, having the time of his life - I do not like the initial impression of him. He has a very adult, blunt, all-knowing voice, when he's supposed to be 10 years old. I know it has to do with his gift - "the sight" - but (and this is PERSONAL PREFERENCE) I hate when little kids are given empowering voices - like they're badass or something - in books.

The last aspect of the book I didn't enjoy was Lane Hardy's behavior after Devin discovers that he's Linda Gray's murderer. He really is the all-too-convenient serial killer. He wants to know how Devin did it! How did he figure out Lane was the killer?! And he keeps Devin alive long enough for all of us - especially the weaker mystery readers such as myself - to say, "Oh!" Is that how the psychology of killers really works? They give the person who can put them in jail for life all the time in the world to do just that (or, in this case, give the world enough time to send someone over to just kill them)?

With that being said, I do love the description of his blasted face. It's disgusting, chilling - overall, well-written. I know this should go in the "WHAT I LIKED" section, but whatever.


Joyland has raised my admiration for King. I've read reviews in the past that stated that his work has changed since he made his name known which - let's face it - is inevitable for a writer who has been writing as long as King has. I personally have yet to get past chapter 2 of his previous novel, 11/22/63, but history is just not my thing. Though, as a great writer, some may argue: aren't you supposed to win your audience over, regardless of the genre? That book is also written in the first-person, which begs to question my comments about first-person narration being King's specialty as well. But, in any case, I personally don't think that a writer can win everyone over, and I also can't say that 11/22/63 is a bad read because, well, I only got to chapter 2.

What I can say is that I love Joyland. It doesn't top Duma Key as my favorite King novel, but it's a close second. It features his expertise in narration, story-telling, character development, and above all, fear in ordinary life.

So, if fear in the ordinary is your thing, or you just love the idea of going to the theme park for the thrill of it all, then I'd say go ahead and pick up a copy. In terms of writing and ease of reading, I totally recommend Joyland.

Hope you enjoyed this review! 'Til next time! ('<>')>


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