Joyland by Stephen King (Book Review)

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Joyland by Stephen King

***SPOILER-FREE REVIEW***

What It’s About:

It’s 1973 and heartbroken college student Devin Jones takes a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland. What should just be a simple summer job brings Devin lifelong friends, heartache, and some of his best & also most horrific life experiences. These experiences make him an adult but will also forever haunt him as much as the ghost of the girl named Linda Gray, who four years previously was mysteriously murdered in and now haunts Joyland’s Horror House ride.

My Thoughts:

I adore Stephen King. I don’t read as much as I’d like but I always make time for King’s books. Love him or hate him (does anyone hate him?), I think he’s an amazing writer and I find myself “lost” in the world of his books as I read them far more than I do with other authors. I suppose he doesn’t get the credit he deserves because of the whole horror thing but I’ve always preferred the supernatural and horror genres when it comes to books so he writes the sort of stories I love. And what a great storyteller! I’d love to see inside that crazy-ass brain of his.

Joyland is quite a simple and pretty straightforward sort of pulp murder mystery. This appears to be King’s second book published by “Hard Case Crime”. The Colorado Kid was the first, which I’ve not read but should as I love the Haven TV show that’s (loosely?) based on it.

I won’t go into the story much as it would ruin it for anyone who reads it. Yes, the Linda Gray ghost & murder mystery is a fairly big part of the story but there’s much more to the book than just that. I’ve also always been fascinated by books with a funfair type setting & the whole carny thing so we get a great big dose of that in this book.

It takes a while for the story to really get going and the best part of the story & a couple of the most important characters (other than Devin) don’t make much of an appearance until over halfway through the book. But King spends a lot of time developing the character of Devin and I really enjoyed that. My favorite King books are the ones in which he focuses more on character development and giving us characters that we really like & care about. He doesn’t always do this and those in which he doesn’t give us characters that are very memorable or gives us ones that are pretty much all downright hateful (Under The Dome) are the books that end up being my least favorite.

Speaking of Under The Dome, that book definitely had a better overall concept than Joyland but then was filled with main characters I didn’t really care about (and can barely even remember as I type this) and such over the top “baddies” that it was one of the more difficult King books to work through despite the great story idea and really wanting to know how it would end. I loved the characters in Joyland, especially Devin & the two important characters he meets later in the book (I won’t go into that as they’re only hinted at on the back cover) but also the other college friends he makes at Joyland and all the regular Joyland employees. For a short book, I felt like I knew more about even the most minor characters in Joyland than I did about anyone in Under The Dome.

The story in Joyland isn’t going to change the world – it’s simple and pretty predictable but I had fun with it & thoroughly enjoyed the book thanks to the setting & especially the great cast of characters. They’re still quite black & white but that works in this “Hard Case Crime” style of book. When you buy a book as thick as Under The Dome, you expect a bit more.

Note: Sorry to compare it to Under The Dome so much but it’s on my mind as the series is finally starting in the UK (this coming Monday night on Channel Five). Yay! As disappointing as the book was, I still enjoy watching ALL things Stephen King-related and never miss them even though I know some adaptations have been truly horrible.

Summary:

Joyland was a great read. It’s pretty “light” for a King novel but that doesn’t make it any less worthy than his more lengthy books. It’s quite a straightforward crime thriller but with just enough of the weird & supernatural to keep King fans happy. But the thing that works best is a great set of well-developed characters, even down to the minor ones. We care about the people in Joyland and the last half of the book, a big part of which has nothing to do with Linda Gray’s murder, is surprisingly moving and reminds us how great King’s books can be when he focuses on making us understand and truly like the people in his fictional worlds.

My Rating: 4/5

This is my favorite book I’ve read this year, closely followed by The Perks Of Being A Wallflower then the rest below. I haven’t managed to read a lot so far but they’ve all been pretty good:

Wool by Hugh Howey Review

Wonder by RJ Palacio Review

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green Review

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky Review

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21 thoughts on “Joyland by Stephen King (Book Review)

    • Thanks. 🙂 Yes – 11/22/63 was very good! Not sure it would quite make a list of my top five or ten but it really was great. Hmm… I want to do a Top Ten now. Would be a VERY difficult list to do. One from more recent years that I know would make the list is Duma Key. As for older ones, I loved things like The Dead Zone. I’m so doing a Stephen King Top Ten sometime soon now. 🙂

    • Thanks. 🙂 I agree – I think it’s an excellent cover! When I searched for the image, I saw a few other covers that were horrible. This one really sums up the feel of the book. I hope you enjoy the book – would be good to know your thoughts. 🙂

  1. I think King is terribly uderappreciated as a writer because people percieve him as a horror story writer. He is a master of characterization and mood, and I think that the horror part comes out more because of how he masterfully portrays up to 10 characters (It) and you dear for them. This comment is already too long. Thank you for a spoiler free review 🙂

    • You’re welcome! I try to stay pretty spoiler-free with everything. 🙂 Yes, I think he’s such a fantastic writer. “It” is probably one of my favorites. So many are… Definitely going to do a list of my Top Ten Stephen King Books sometime soon. Won’t be easy to choose! And thanks for the comment – comments can never be too long. 🙂

  2. I know you say it’s spoiler free… but I still just kinda skimmed it for confirmations of my own expectations. 😉 I almost bought this last week… but there’s no rush. I’ve got at least 4 books I’d want to get through first. Glad to hear it’s worth checking out though. Cell was such a disappointment for me (started very strong, but fizzled out faster than usual for King), I haven’t really checked out much of his stuff since.

    So, I’ll be back to read your review for real once I’ve gotten through it. Might not be ’til Christmas, though. 😛

    • Hehe – that’s okay. I also have a huge list of books to get through but kind of tend to drop everything to read a King book. I liked that it was a short & easy read – didn’t take long. I really liked Cell but that’s because it’s the type of thing I always go for (apocalyptic & “zombie-like”) but admit it was a very disappointing finale. :-/ Yes, started out great. The one I really loved that I think came out close to the same time was Duma Key. And I know 11/22/63 is a very popular one. I thought that was excellent but overlong – took a VERY long time for that one to really get going but then the second half was brilliant.

  3. I really enjoyed Joyland too. It took a while for me to really get into it…I suppose I was expecting more emphasis on the crime and possibly the supernatural elements of it. However, this is a really good tale of coming-of-age and nostalgia. It has the “long hot summer” feel King gave Stand By Me with the heartfelt character relationships we saw recently in 11/22/63. This is definitely a book I could return to.

    • Yeah – the book wasn’t really what I was expecting but I ended up really liking it and not minding that there’s very little of the usual King “weirdness” going on. The Body & 11/22/63 are good comparisons – those are good as was a current favorite of mine with heartfelt characters too (Duma Key). I’ll remember the characters in Joyland as well as I do in all of King’s best novels. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  4. Great job on this review. You hit on all the crucial points and didn’t give too much away. I do hope that King does write some more Hard Case Crime stories because I did thoroughly enjoy reading it even though it was on the lighter side.

    • Thanks. 🙂 I find it really hard to write anything about books! But I can go on & on about a movie. I would love it if King does more books like this. I love him but sometimes I look at those HUGE thick novels of his and think “I’m too tired to start on that thing”. Joyland ended up very sweet & a little heartbreaking at the end, too – that wasn’t really hinted at before I read the book. I really liked that storyline and I just really liked the characters overall. Light but entertaining book. 🙂

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