I’m marking up Stephen King’s JOYLAND like some people do the Bible. Highlighting, underlining and making comments in the margins, boy, will some of my Christian friends have issues with me. Worse yet, instead of doing my work—which today should have been the writing of my own book—I’m sitting with a cup of coffee reading King’s latest novel.
I must confess, I have not been a fan of King’s work. The horror genre is not my thing. But, good writing is. And without a doubt, Stephen King is a master story teller and superb writer. Like an eager apprentice studying a master painter, I am soaking up literary skills I can only wish were mine. As a writer of young adult literature, how can I not be fascinated with the brilliant way King brings a young man’s emotions and pain onto the pages of a novel that is both a little creepy and a tender coming of age story?
JOYLAND is, at its heart, the coming of age tale of 21 year old Devin Jones. Devin is an ordinary kid, a nice guy. But of course, he’s chasing after the wrong girl. How many young men don’t do exactly the same thing? Devin is going through a rough breakup with the-girl-who-is-so-not-right-for-him. While battling what King calls “suicidal ideations” after the gut-wrenching breakup, Devin gets a job at Joyland, a second rate amusement park filled with college kids at summer jobs and colorful “carnies” that are kind of there for life. He’s a young man on an emotional roller coast. The ghost, throat-slashing serial killer, and who-dun-it-murder mystery serve only as plot devices to help young Devin finally grow up.
The ghost and serial killer might sound scary, but there aren’t really very many scary moments in JOYLAND. There are a few, but there are many more touching moments. As one reviewer said, “Moments where you want to reach out to Devin and say, ‘Devin, hang in there dude – we’ll get through this together and things will work out great.’” This isn’t a book that will keep you up at night; this is a book that will keep you wondering how Stephen King can put into words so perfectly what it’s like to be a 21-one year old virgin who wants to do “it” with a girl he thinks he’s in love with, but who has already moved on to do “it” with someone else. If you’re looking for a Stephen King tale of terror, then look elsewhere. There are no bloody romps into the grotesque. But there is a story that most young people can probably relate to. That is the brilliance of Stephen King..