By Heidi Simmons
By Stephen King

Oh the joy of casual summer reading! What a pleasure it is to float on a pool or sit on the beach with a book that engages and entertains. It’s especially sweet when it doesn’t matter if the pages get a little wet or collect sand. Stephen King’s Joyland (Hard Case Crime, 284 pages) published as a pulp-fiction style paperback has all the fun elements that encompass cheap thrills, romance and mystery.

Joyland is a straightforward coming-of-age story. Devin Jones is a virgin and college freshman in love with his girlfriend hoping to end the school year by getting laid in a romantic setting. When his girlfriend leaves campus with her roommate, without a goodbye, Devin is heartbroken. Trying to get over her, he takes a summer job at a seaside midlevel amusement park in North Carolina.

He is soon indoctrinated into the “carny” world. A good kid and hard worker, he becomes a beloved newb and the old-timers take him under their wing and share the secrets about the park and a murder in the Horror House.


With the help of his new community and friends Tom and Erin — other summer time college workers — his heart starts to mend and a murder starts to unravel. Come fall, Devin decides to stay at Joyland. College can wait, but the mystery cannot.

Set in the 1970s, Devin narrates his story as an adult looking back at the influential summer that made him a man. He reflects on his life and the lives of those whom he met and kept in touch all these years later.

My fondness for this material may be in part from the early pleasures of reading The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Like those stories, there is a similar simplicity and innocence about Joyland. We enter a world that is new and different, colorful and dangerous.

Like Frank, Joe and Nancy, Devin is thoughtful and makes an effort to do the right thing. He is trusting without being gullible. He is respectful and willing to engage with those in the community. Yet he is not afraid to be alone with his thoughts. But Devin is 21 and still enjoys listening to his favorite records and eating junk food.

King does a beautiful job drawing the well-rounded characters and their backgrounds. There is a wonderful sense of their inner conflicts and fears. For some of them, we get a glimpse at how difficult and challenging it is to be brave.

There are many moments in which I was emotionally moved by the characters in Joyland. I especially appreciated the relationship between Devin and his father. Although there is not a lot of the father in the story, we get a strong sense of his love and influence in Devin’s life.

Make no mistake, this is an adult novel with sex and violence and best of all a supernatural element that gives it a wonderful creepiness and edge that keeps us curious and guessing to the last page.

Reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, for me, this is King at his storytelling best. What I most like, intentionally or not on King’s part, is how the novel works thematically. Metaphorically or literally, at some point we all come upon a fearful place we must enter that requires us to be brave. A place where we loose our innocence in order to become a mature adult. It is a new place where we can more fully appreciate life and the influence of the lives we know and have known. Maybe that’s joyland.