Stephen King’s latest has scares, to be certain, and touches of the supernatural, but it’s no horror novel. It’s a coming-of-age story, but the main character is twenty-one during the novel’s main events, and we see little of his childhood. The marketing suggests a crime novel and, while this may be accurate, the mystery hanging over this book drives only the last third of the plot.

No, in terms of genre, this is a yarn, and a darn good yarn.

Title: Joyland
Author: Stephen King

First published in June 2013.
ISBN: 1781162646
978-1781162644

Available from Amazon.uk, Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

King likes this as a book, and won’t be allowing an e-book for awhile.

Premise:

In the summer of 1973, a college student gets a job at an old-fashioned amusement park. While undergoing enough coming-of-age experiences to fill a season of summer movies, he learns the park’s dark ride may really be haunted. Someone murdered a young woman there, not too long ago, and the crime has not been solved. Can young Devin and his new friends accomplish what the police could not?

High Points:

King has penned one of the most compulsively readable books I’ve encountered in a long time. Inspired by paperback reading of yore, he has given us a likeable hero, a beautifully-evoked setting, and a page-turner of a yarn. Joyland has its flaws, but Stephen King could teach a few things about storytelling to certain more literary writers who disdain, well, Stephen King.

Low Points:

King, even in his most horrific outings, has always shown a sentimental side and, oh lord, especially in the final third, does this thing turn hokey. I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t already released the movie. The first pages prepared me for this aspect (you might say that it’s part of the genre), and I enjoyed the book, but I could not keep my eyes from rolling at times, especially once the idealized disabled kid and his troubled but noble single mother rolled into the story. The climax, in particular, may challenge your willingness to suspend incredulity.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 While we see no original elements here— an emotionally wounded but pleasant young protagonist develops summer friendships that last a lifetime while experiencing both the life-affirming and creepy side of the carnival and gets help solving a mystery from an amusement-park psychic who might be the real deal, a precocious, lovable kid with a disability, and a ghost who haunts a fake haunted house—but Joyland spins the ingredients into something memorable.

Imagery: 6/6 King’s ability to evoke places and times has never been better.

Story: 5/6

Characterization: 5/6 I believed in the major characters, and accepted the minor ones—though the supporting cast has more than a touch of cliché, and some of the dialogue (the twelve-year-old, in particular) could benefit from revision.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 5/6 The narrator offers excessive explanation for a few too many things, too often.

Overall score: 6/6 Yeah, it should lose a point for certain excesses, but I’m giving that point back for the cool retro-pulp cover and the rollercoaster readability. King spins one hell of a yarn, and the film won’t be far behind.1 Get it now; this is quality summer reading.

To quote Dean, as he welcomes Devin to the staff:

“The conies have to leave happy, or this place dries up and blows away. I’ve seen it happen, and when it does, it happens fast. It’s an amusement park, young Mr. Jones, so pet the conies and give their ears only the gentlest of tugs. In a word, amuse them.” (24)

In total, Joyland receives 34/42

Note

Yup. Movie’s due out in 2015.