This is only the second Stephen King book I've ever read, other than The Stand
. I just don't do horror, as a general rule. But then this came out, and it was a mystery, or at least marketed as such, and so I figured I'd give it a try.
It isn't really about the mystery, though, and others have noted it. There is a mystery, sure. The main character works at Joyland, an amusement (not theme - King is careful about the difference) park one summer in the 1970s. Several years earlier, a girl had been murdered on one of the rides, and her ghost still appears to be around. And by the end, whodunit is revealed.
But that isn't really what the book is about. It's the framing, but this is about growing up, and feeling dislocated and losing first love, and trying to figure out who the hell you are, and at a certain point, starting to recognize that people outside of yourself are people too.
Devin Jones has been dumped by his girlfriend while starting work at Joyland. I've never worked at an amusement park, but I also spent one summer selling fun, and I have to say it was the best summer job I ever had. (I was a tour guide on a Haunted Walk. So much fun - tell people spooky stories and history about my beloved hometown, walk through the most beautiful parts of said town, or the Fort nearby, and have people just come to be entertained? Bliss. Of course, I had that job when I was in my late twenties and had gone back to school after working for a few years, so I didn't quite have the late-teen/early-twenties experience.)
Devin discovers while he's working there that he's particularly good at entertaining children, and this becomes increasingly important as the summer goes on, and there's one child in particular who Devin wants to see have a good time at Joyland. (I've also worn big heavy hot costumes to entertain children, back when I worked at a bookstore, but I can't say I enjoyed that. Those things are awful. But Devin seems to enjoy it.)
More than the mystery, which is shoved aside for most of the book, this is about love and loss, and death. Those first few times you come face to face with it, violent, or sudden, or expected, or extended. There was at least one section in there where I teared up.
So my second encounter with Stephen King was a good one. It almost makes me want to branch out and try more of his stuff. But probably not.
Crossposted to Smorgasbook