Friday, July 5, 2013

Audiobook Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Title: Joyland
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973,  Joyland  tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.  Joyland  is a brand-new novel and has never previously been published.

My Review:

You guys know about the relationship that is Me + Stephen King.  He's had a few flops in my eyes (The Girl Who Loved Tom, and I'm so-so on Cujo), but for the most part, I devour and adore his work.  His most recent release caught my eye, partially because of the premise (creepy amusement park crime novel, oooooh!) and partially because of its somewhat-limited release.  It was primarily printed in paperback and audiobook format e-books and very few hardcovers.  I decided to go with the audio CD, narrated by Michael Kelly.

(Side note: while I was listening to this, we went on vacation to New Jersey and visited Wildwood one day.  Their boardwalk amusement parks totally reminded me of Joyland!  Which is probably not saying much for Wildwood...haha.)
Wildwood...or Joyland?  Hmmm...
Anyway!  About the book.  I quickly realized that this is not a typical Stephen King horror story.  It certainly has its chilling, supernatural elements, but it's probably more of a coming-of-age story than anything else.  It's narrated by Devin Jones, now an adult, but in the summer of 1973, he was working at Joyland, a seaside amusement park in North Carolina.  As the summer progresses, he struggles to get over a recent breakup while also uncovering the details of a murder that happened at the park not so long ago.  Along the way, he encounters a unique-though-fatally-ill child whose clairvoyant abilities are startling.

(Because what would a Stephen King novel be without a child with superpowers?)

I finished this audiobook a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still having a hard time deciding how I feel about Stephen King as a "whodunit" author.  The identity of the killer didn't come as a great surprise to me, which is what made me feel that this was less about the mystery and more about the maturation of Devin over the course of the story.  And Devin's character is great, but I guess I wanted more than just that from the book at times.  I go to Stephen King and want suspense--he's clearly the master of that arena.  However, that is not a big element of this novel, and in that regard I felt mildly frustrated.

That said--ignoring my feelings about the lack of suspense, this is an excellent example of a coming-of-age story.  As I mentioned already, Devin's character is excellent: witty, sarcastic, honest about his faults.  I enjoyed watching him change throughout that fateful summer at Joyland.  And Michael Kelly is an awesome narrator for the audiobook.  He helped me visualize Devin in a clearer way than I may have been able to do while reading the paperback format.  So in this regard, the book is a win.

Overall, this is obviously a mixed review.  Joyland is not a typical King novel, so I'd say it's best to know that up front.  If you focus more on the "human" element of the story, you'll be sure to admire it.  But your average King creep-factor will be if that's important to you, you may want to try another of his works.

Any other King fans have thoughts on this one?  If you've never read any King, have you ever been thrown off by a book written by one of your favorite authors?


  1. I'm oddly interested in this one, and it's not the usual type of book I'd read. Nor is it the usual type of Stephen King novel I'd pick up. But amusement parks! And a NC setting! Yeah, all the temptation.

    1. He is great at tempting you with a description alone. For that reason, I would probably read King's notes on a napkin, if he gave me a good enough summary beforehand.

  2. Oh I loooooove coming of age stories! I haven't read King in a long time, so this would probably be a good one for me to get back into.

    1. I'd love to hear what you think! It's very different than a lot of his other work, so if you've been out of King for a while it will be an interesting one to come back to.

  3. I have to say that I think it's so cool that King is evolving as an author. The last things he's released have been anything but typical King which is pretty cool. I'll probably read this one at some point. :)

    1. Very true. I think I need to rework my mental depiction of him sometimes. I love love love his horror stuff, but he's really expanded his repertoire in the last 10 years especially.

  4. I've always been afraid of Stephen King (I blame The Shining), BUT if this one is more of a coming-of-age story than horror.... Maybe I'll consider picking this one up.


    1. Soooooo different from The Shining!! I'd love to hear what you think if you do try it! :)

  5. I bought this one a few weeks ago and am excited about reading it. I'm not so good with 'creepy' so maybe I won't notice some of the things you missed. Great review.

    1. If creepy SK isn't your thing, I think you will definitely enjoy it. Can't wait to hear what you think!

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