Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland by Stephen King cover

Stephen King’s new book is one that fits the old adage “never judge a book by its cover.” Joyland is not what the picture on the cover seems to suggest. You expect it to be a horror story, a cliché tale about a haunted amusement park. You expect suspense and major scares. But if that’s what you’re expecting, you will be disappointed. Joyland isn’t so much in the vein of King’s horror stories as it is in his more literary works, such as the novella The Body.

Joyland by Stephen King coverThere is a ghost story in this book, but the main focus is on the journey that the protagonist, Devin Jones, takes through life. It’s a nostalgic book, where Devin looks back on the year he worked at an amusement park during college. His girlfriend leaves him and he’s flailing through life because the future he had imagined with her was now gone. Most of the book takes place during that year but there are occasional flashes to what happened later, following up on characters and relationships in small scenes that say big things. Devin’s time working at Joyland is a growing-up experience, where he made lifelong friends and got a glimpse of a world beyond our own.

There are hints of The Shining in here, mainly via a young boy who has basically the same gift as Danny did in that book. It’s a bit of a replay of that, except from a different point of view. It has a more mature writing style and tackles themes of adulthood, life, and death. If it weren’t for the hints of the supernatural and the murder mystery that simmers in the background until the very end, you would think this was just another coming-of-age story. But Devin does hear about the ghost of a murdered young woman haunting one of the rides. However, Devin never sees her and she’s not the scary sort of ghost. Her murderer, on the other hand, is terrifying, especially since he was never caught. Devin looks into the mystery with the help of one of his new friends, but it’s more in the background of the book. It’s a thread that flows through it all, but is relatively understated when compared to the emphasis placed on Devin’s own life lessons. Not until the end, when Devin figures it out and faces down the killer, does the book seem more like the thriller the cover suggests.

But despite not being what it appears, Joyland is still a good read. The writing is polished and shows possible signs of King’s own nostalgia for days past, by placing it in the point-of-view of an older man looking back on life. It’s a well-executed tale that is weightier than one would expect, but it is worth the read.

You can purchase Joyland from Amazon.