Joyland by Stephen King
Published originally only in paperback, this mystery/thriller harkens back to the pulp novels Stephen King used to read when he was young. Hard Case Crime is the actual name of the publisher, which has created an appropriately lurid old time cover to go with King’s vision. In contrast the King’s well-known horror novels, this is a quieter, quirky story that is as much a bildungsroman (coming of age novel) as a mystery about a serial killer still at large. At just under 300 pages, it’s also one of the author’s shortest books. It reminds me more of the tender underpinnings of books like Hearts in Atlantis and The Shawshank Redemption than it does the horror opuses like It or The Stand. The story follows college student Devin Jones as he takes a summer job at an old-fashioned amusement park in 1971. He’s trying to recover from a broken heart and becomes immersed in the “carny” life, as he meets a variety of characters that Stephen King is known for including in his stories. Devin and readers are introduced to a dying boy and his beautiful but standoffish mother, a fortuneteller who was really a childless widow from Brooklyn if the off-season, and a boarding house owner who dispenses advice as easily as she does a mean grilled cheese sandwich. He discovers the four-year-old unsolved murder when he begins seeing a ghost near the Horror House, in which she was killed during the ride with the murderer slipping out unseen.
I recommend this quick and easy read to all teen readers. If you love King’s descriptive writing and quirky characters, this your book. If you’ve always been intimidated by the writer’s 1000+ page tomes, this is your chance to try him in a bite-size portion. If you’re just in the mood for a good mystery, pick this one up. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.