Audiobook Review: Joyland, by Stephen King

Until 11/22/63 came out, I'd never read a Stephen King novel. I know, I know: shame on me. But I'm easily terrified, so his canon of horror novels never truly appealed to me. 11/22/63 was non-horrorish enough for skittish little me to take to it, and it turned me on to the power of King's stories and characters--and the depth of his imagination--in a big way.

And so I was delighted to hear of Joyland, which promised to be the classic mystery-with-a-twist type of novel that I looked for in 11/22/63 and not the blood-pouring-on-teenage-heads type of novel that has me so scared to read Carrie.

Joyland, not surprisingly, did not disappoint. The novel centers on Devin Jones, a college kid from New England who lands a job at Joyland, a classic pre-Six Flags amusement park in North Carolina, in the summer of 1973. Having just suffered his first major break-up, Devin marches into the summer like any 21-year-old virgin suffering from a bad case of heartbreak: ready to make new friends, work hard, and try to forget the girl--no matter how futile that last may seem. Along the way, he finds himself mildly obsessed with the mystery of the haunted Horror House in the park, looking for the ghost of a murdered woman in the park's "only dark ride."

Told in the first person, narrator Michael Kelly perfectly captures the heartbreak, ennui, and general attitude of Devin, known to his friends as Dev and his colleagues at the park as "Jonesy." Unfortunately, while the style of narration is perfectly suited to Devin's character, it's not suitable to car-listening--Kelly's sentences sometimes fade to mumbiling, and on more than on occasion, I had to back up to re-listen to a section to tell what was going on.

But if you're willing to go into this with a little patience, the narration style pays off. Kelly's--and therefore Devin's--retelling of that summer of '73 builds slowly, almost like an afterthought, the words of an old man reflecting on a summer long-past. But as events unfold, Devin becomes more invested in his own story, recounting with an urgency that was lacking at the outset of the novel.

This urgency reflects Devin's own growth over the summer, as he moves from New England college kid to heartbroken virgin to stand-his-ground man. It's hard to say how that all happens without giving too much away, but suffice it to say King has managed to work a coming-of-age tale into a murder mystery into the story of a haunted amusement park. It's a tale of the everyday, a story of a turning-point summer that we can all probably point to in our own lives, but tinged with enough intrigue and fantasy that you just might find yourself looking over your shoulder the next time you visit an amusement park yourself--that is, if you can still find one of the good ol' parks.


My inquiring self wants to know: If King's horror novels are too scary for me, but I dig his writing style and stories, where should I go next?


Note: This title is only available in paperback (from Hard Case Crime) and on audio, and was not released as an e-book per Stephen King's wishes.
Joyland | Stephen King, nar. Michael Kelly | Simon & Schuster Audio | June 2013 | Audio CD | 7 1/2 hours


  1. Hey Kerry,

    You should try Under the Dome, like 11/22/63 it is a beast of a novel, but I found it terrific (regardless of how you may feel about the TV adaptation). It is one of my favorites from his more recent work.

  2. Nice review! I need to read this one, though it sounds like I should pass on the audio. I don't do well with audio in general, especially if the reader is a mumbler! Agree that UTD could be a good one. It's suspenseful, but not quite as gory or dark as some of his other stuff (in general, I think this is true of his later work). Also try EYES OF THE DRAGON, or maybe even THE STAND (it has scary moments/images but it's not too horrific, as I recall). My favorite short story of his isn't scary -- it's "The House on Maple Street" from NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES —but beware of some others in the collection. :)

  3. Stephen King does a fair few non-scary books which are amazing, The Green Mile is really wonderful, Running Man is tense but not scary, The Dark Tower series is dark at times but not really scary either (so far, I haven't finished the series), and any of his short story collections will also be good picks because there might be horror stories but you can skip over them. I haven't read 11/22/63 but I none of the reviews I've read have suggested it's scary, and most people seem to love it.

  4. So glad you loved Joyland! It's a quieter King, and though this vibe is present in most of his horror, I'm always glad when it takes centerstage in a book. I second the recommendations of 11/22/63 (a chunker of a commitment but same vibe as Joyland), and of The Dark Tower (it's this epic, fantasy-ish adventure that's just pure fun and generous with the vision). The Green Mile is always a good, non-horror try, and look for his novella, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"! I have gone on and on, haha.

  5. Different Seasons is a collection of four novellas including Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. There are some big, really thought-provoking differences between the novella and the movie. Great stuff.

  6. Excellent review! Though I think, given the mumbling, I may try this one as a book instead of on audio.

    I know Kayleigh already mentioned it, but I'd like to second The Green Mile as an excellent not-scary King story. And while I realize when you think King you're really thinking novels but his non-fiction book On Writing is very good

  7. I have Joyland ready to read after I finish Joe Hill's NOS4A2. I just finished Doctor Sleep today and was less than happy with it, so I wanted to take a wee break on King books (but obviously, I didn't want to stray that far since I'm reading his son's work!); glad to read you enjoyed Joyland, so now I'm looking forward to it even more!


Thanks for stopping by!