Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.
I have to admit, the cover for Joyland by Stephen King definitely helped lure me in. It is absolutely stunning. It also helps set the reader’s expectations for the retro amusement park setting that this book creates. I suppose other covers may do that, but this one really jumps out at me. And this one really sticks with me. Now, as much as I love the cover, I should probably talk about the book. Joyland is many things in a short novel. It is the story of first love, and the first heartbreak that inevitably goes with it. It is the story of finding your way and place in life. It is the story of recognizing and valuing everyday friends and people. It’s the story of life, love and death and whatever falls in between and possibly after. Pretty much, it is the story of growing up.
The supernatural aspect to this book, while haunting, is in the background. As is the murder mystery that this story is told around. When it comes down to it, this is the story of Devin Jones as he finds himself and his way in life. He leaves school and his broken heart to work in an amusement park called Joyland, located in Heaven’s Bay. Could there be a more wondrous sounding place to try go to forget your everyday problems of money, school and love? I can’t imagine there is, and so that is exactly where Devin goes and where our story begins. And while there, Devin finds more than just how to impersonate Howie the Happy Hound, the park’s mascot.
I absolutely loved the old amusement park setting that King created. The tone and atmosphere really made me, as a reader, feel I was in a 1973 North Carolina amusement park. It felt like going back to live in the cover that drew me to read the book in the first place. Throw in familiar geographic and cultural references, there is a true feeling of nostalgia (even if it was set slightly before my time).
This is a very short book, but it works. I would love to know more about each of the characters that touched Devin’s life that summer, where they are now and what became of them. But I almost feel like if the book was lengthened, it could lose something. Similar to Ocean at the End of the Lane, I am left curious for more but satisfied with what I was given. Which ultimately, was a bittersweet story about life.
This review was originally posted on Wilder’s Book Review