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Joyland by Stephen King: A Review

Updated on May 18, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna is a writer, mom, crafter, movie buff. Her favorites are horror movies and horror stories, thanks to some inspiring parents.


Joyland by Stephen King
Joyland by Stephen King

I'm Kind of New to This

I recently wrote a review of Stephen King's newest novel, Doctor Sleep, and it was the first review of a book that I had ever attempted to write. I love to read, and I am always reading something, so it's a little strange that I have never thought to do a book review before. Since, I also recently read Joyland, I decided to do a review for that book as well. The first book review was well received, and I hope this one is, as well.

Joyland is the second book Stephen King has written for the Hard Case Crime series.The first was a book called The Colorado Kid. The Colorado Kid went on to be the inspiration for the SyFy Channel's series, Haven. If you are concerned that this will be a hard boiled crime novel, fear not. It does involve a crime and a mystery, but it is one that is tackled in true Stephen King fashion.

My Rating for Joyland

4 stars for Joyland by Stephen King

What is Joyland?


Joyland is set within a small-time amusement park, in the summer and fall of 1973. We follow a young college student, Devin Jones, as he learns about Joyland, friendship, heartbreak, and wearing the fur (we will get to that later). It's a story about growing up, finding yourself, and so much more. Devin starts out full of the hope and naivete that only the very young can possess. Then, he gets his heart broken, and all of that changes. As the story progresses, he learns a lot about life, and a lot about himself. It is heartbreaking, interesting and, most of all, beautiful. Life is beautiful, even the bad stuff can be beautiful, sometimes.

Joyland is a small, struggling amusement park in North Carolina, that is kept running by some truly interesting characters, many of whom have strong ties to the old carny life. It kind of reminds me of this little, old amusement park we had near where I grew up. It was all a little run down, and didn't get a lot of visitors.

While traveling carnivals have changed greatly over the years, the carny lifestyle is one of those things that endures, even if the traveling carnival is instead replaced by a little amusement park that struggles to compete with the larger players, like Disney and Six Flags. After all, isn't an amusement park a lot like a carnival that never travels anywhere?

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A Ghost Story

What would a Stephen King book be without something paranormal? OK, so not all of his books deal with monsters and ghouls. Thankfully, there are no clowns in this one, either. The main focus of the story in this book deals with Devin, and his journey, but all of that is tied into the ghost story, as well.

Devin meets some interesting characters during his time at Joyland. One of them is a psychic, named Rosalind Gold/Fortuna, that by outward appearances, is a fake who cons money out of the customers/rubes who come to the park, or is she? She tells Devin some things that really shake him up, but does he believe her? Then he hears the park's infamous ghost story. It is rumored that Horror House, the dark ride at the park, is actually haunted by the spirit of a girl who was murdered there. Devin wants to know if this is really true. "Fortuna" believes, but she might be a fake, so who knows?

Devin makes some wonderful friends during his time at Joyland, and it seems, some enemies, as well. His friends help him sort out his feelings about his break-up, cheer him up, watch out for him, and help him to uncover the truth of the haunted Horror House ride.

And, he ends up wearing the fur, a lot. OK, so what is wearing the fur? I have mentioned it a few times. Well, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. He has to wear the park's mascot costume, a dog in this case, around the park, to entertain the kiddies. He ends up being really good at it, and he spends a lot of time in that fur. Interestingly enough, he learns a lot about himself during his time in that dog costume.

Different Cover

Joyland, limited edition hardcover
Joyland, limited edition hardcover

My Thoughts

I really don't want to give too much away about the book, so in terms of plot, that is all you are going to get. Sorry, but I hate when books/movies/whatever, are ruined for me, so I won't do it to someone else. I just don't want to spoil too much of the book. It is so much better if you read it for yourself.

The book is not all that long, only 283 pages, so it's a rather quick read. I think I read it in about two days, and that's only because I don't have a lot of time to read. It's also inexpensive, due to the fact that it was published by Hard Case Crime as a paperback. It was later published as a limited edition hardcover, but that is another matter. Back to the book.

The story is fantastic! I loved reading it, but by the time I finished, I wished it had been longer. I wanted to understand the characters better, get to know them a little more. It was not at all what I had expected it to be, but Stephen King novels often surprise me. It's interesting because a few years ago, I had an idea to approach a very similar subject; in a far different manner, but the subject matter was similar. I never did get a around to writing it, and probably won't.

This book will not disappoint you!! I found myself really caring for the characters, and the story is incredibly compelling. I know we all remember our very first heartbreak, so we can relate to the sadness and pining Devin deals with towards the beginning of the story. Most of us got over that first broken heart, as Devin eventually does. While haunted amusement park rides sound like the stuff Scooby and his gang would tackle, this is not a child's story; not by any means! It is a novel for adults, with very adult themes. Neither is it a gritty crime novel. It is a book with a great deal of heart. That heart may be broken and full of sadness, but it's got a heart.

I have always found the carny life interesting, maybe because it is so far removed from my quiet life. This story gives you a little peak into that life, the outward glitz and glitter, the truer grit and grime below that, and the even darker stuff underneath.

I highly recommend this book to any Stephen King fan, anyone who is a fan of interesting crime novels, and any fans of ghost stories or the paranormal. It is a great book. And the cover art is great, as well!!

© 2013 Anna Marie Bowman


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    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 4 years ago from Florida

      avian--It's a really great book!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like an interesting read. I had heard that carnies lead uncanny lives.