What it’s about: A student takes a year off from college to work in a beach-town amusement park, which is haunted by the ghost of a girl whose murder was never solved. Just released in paperback on the Hard Case Crime imprint, Joyland reminds Stephen King fans why we love his books so much. It is not so much a horror story as a bittersweet coming-of-age tale that happens to have a ghost in it.
Joyland is set in the early 1970s, in an amusement park in a small North Carolina beach resort town, a setting that King brings fully to life. He invents a small but fully fleshed out cast of characters who talk in the colorful language of the carnival (whether real or made up by King, I don’t mind), using phrases like “wearing the fur.” The narrator, Devin Jones, comes to love Joyland, and King makes us readers love it too. The historical setting tinges the book with nostalgia, in a good way, as it is told by a older man looking back on one of the most important times in his life.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Devin discovers that a girl was murdered in the park’s House of Horrors. The murder was never solved, and some people have seen her ghost haunting the murder site. After his roommate too sees the ghost, Devin becomes interested in solving the murder. When his college girlfriend dumps him, he decides to stay on after the summer season and help the skeleton crew close down the park. Then, he befriends a single mother and her child, who is gravely ill.
Why I liked it: I ate this book up in just a few days, and I loved the way it hearkened back to a simpler time with a simpler story. It’s a good beach read, but it will be a great fall read, when we all tend to think back on our carefree summers.
You might like this book if: you enjoy Stephen King, of course, but also if you enjoy ghost stories, especially with a historical setting.