Joyland by Stephen KingMy dad told me I would love this book, and even though I’ve only read three Stephen King novels (I’m not a fan of the horror genre, really), I decided to give it a try. Because if dad says I’ll love it, I probably will.

He was right.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis: “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.”

Short and. . .well, sort of sweet, right? My dad told me it was about a murder at a carnival, but it was a “guy telling a story from his past” and that was why he knew I would like it/be able to read it. That is pretty helpful for me, and even though there is some suspense about the Dev’s fate, it was comforting to remember that he is narrating the novel the whole time, and jumping between his summer at Joyland and other things that have happened since then, either to him or his two colleagues and friends, Erin Cook and Tom Kennedy.

I thought I would like Joyland when I finally got around to it, but I didn’t think I would tear through it as fast as I did and fall so head over heels with the plot and the characters.  They were all just so real. This was one of the reasons I loved The Stand–I liked being with the characters, even through the darkest moments of the plot. While I wouldn’t call Joyland scary by any means, it is definitely a dark book with a lot of suspense. There were moments of concern and worry, of wonder and amusement. There were also a lot of really sad moments, as well as times when I could feel and understand a character’s frustration, like when Erin tells Dev what she’s discovered about The Funhouse Killer.

The best part about Joyland for me, though, was how enthralled I became with it. I like to read in whole pieces, and the organization of the book makes that easy because most of the sections are only a couple of pages long, if that. However, Stephen King definitely knows how to write a cliffhanger, and every time I would reach a little heart to signify the end of a section, I’d find myself thinking “Just one more! One more section!”

When I started reading last night, I was shocked that I had only 80 pages left. Before I knew it, it was 20. Even though I had no plan to finish the book so quickly (which is kind of like rushing through a delicious dinner), I just couldn’t stop. I needed to know how Dev had figured out who the murderer was and what was going to happen.

It was not necessarily a “twist,” but it was definitely a resolution I did not see coming. Maybe if I read it again, I would see the pieces fitting together. But I would probably still be too wrapped up in Dev’s girl problems, the heartbreaking story of Mike Ross, and the bitter ending for Erin and Tom.

I’d like to end this review with a quote from Joyland’s 93-year-old owner:

‘This is a badly broken world, full of wars and cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Those of you who don’t already know that will come to know it. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun. In exchange for the hard-earned dollars of your customers, you will parcel out happiness. Children will go home and dream of what they saw and what they did here. I hope you will remember that when the work is hard, as it sometimes will be, or when they people are rude, as they often will be, or when you feel your best efforts have gone unappreciated. This is a different world, one that has its own customs and its own language, which we simply call the Talk. You’ll begin learning it today. As you learn to talk the Talk, you’ll learn to walk the walk. I’m not going to explain that, because it can’t be explained; it can only be learned.'” — Bradley Easterbrook, Joyland, page 59

Isn’t that so very true? I may not be learning to talk the Talk but there are certainly talks and walks that I’m still new to, that I am learning every day. We should all take a few minutes to remember not that our world is full of tragedy, but that sometimes our smile is the only smile someone gets that day. That sometimes our own kindness can  make a huge difference in another person’s life. That sometimes, our own daily tragedies and personal struggles and hardships may be nothing compared to what another person is going through. We may not be here to “parcel out happiness,” but we certainly can contribute to our own and each other’s, whether they be family, friend, colleague, or rube.