Goodreads Review: Joyland

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joyland’s premise is simple; drop an unsuspecting college kid on the edge of a nervous breakdown into a (potentially haunted) amusement park, toss in a damsel in distress, an unsolved murder (or four…) and maybe a ghost or two, let the mess sort itself out.

Fairly standard King, in other words. And it’s not all that inaccurate; Joyland is indeed like much of King’s backlog. Take one depressed post-teenager, a semi-mundane (but slightly surreal) setting, add spooks, and stir. But like most King novels, there’s a lot more under the hood if you stop to look.

Dev Jones comes to Joyland one summer to put some cash in his pocket and get a little perspective on life. When he joins the rest of Team Beagle at the dog-themed amusement park, we’re given a vivid description of carnival terminology and a slice of a life beyond what most of us will ever be used to. Unlike most of his fellow “greenies,” Dev takes to it with a will, even requesting that he stay on for the off season, taking a semester off from college (and away from his cheating ex-girlfriend). The local fortune-teller’s cryptic warnings, and the friendship Dev forms with Mike, Annie and Milo Ross along with the whispers of a ghost haunting the Horror House certainly help make that decision as well.

To say much more would likely give the game away, but the point of it is this: The on-top story (about friendship with Annie, Milo and Mike and digging into the murder in the park) is just paint. Joyland is really about living, growing up, the scabs and scars that get inflicted on us in our youth and what we do with them as adults. And those moments that, as King puts it, “are treasure. They’re precious. They shine.” Hidden underneath all the carny-talk and whodunit questions, you see Dev trying to rebuild himself, to be a better man… and from the occasional interjections of his older self (who’s telling us this story) you see the places where he succeeded… and where he failed. Joyland will rest happily alongside IT and ‘Salem’s Lot as a testament to those ideals, to childhood and learning to grow up – or thinking you had, only to see that it’s all still there, from that first kiss with the girl next door to the fear of the boogeyman under the bed or in the closet – and the bittersweet taste of your childhood’s departure. It’s about feeling something, and that always has been what King does best… even without a parade of beasts.

I recommend this one to anybody, but especially to people who like a good whodunit or ghost story, and those looking to be punched right in the feels, as the internet is fond of saying these days. Joyland makes you care about Mike Ross, Laura Gray and Dev Jones, and the epilogue is more touching and somehow right than any thousand romances or “heartwarming stories” that clog the shelves these days. Check it out.

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