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.
Devin is a college student who takes a summer job at a small amusement park located in a beach town in North Carolina. He quickly fits in and earns the respect of the long-term carny hands as well as his fellow summer workers. He is an easy-going and reflective young man, going through the... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Devin is a college student who takes a summer job at a small amusement park located in a beach town in North Carolina. He quickly fits in and earns the respect of the long-term carny hands as well as his fellow summer workers. He is an easy-going and reflective young man, going through the pain of first separation and then rejection from his college girlfriend. When the summer ends he decides to stay on full time at the carnival rather than return to school.
Devin becomes friends with a woman and her son. They live in a large house on the beach, and the boy is wheelchair bound and stricken with Muscular Dystrophy. He also has a wisdom beyond his years, and he is able to see things that others cannot . Devin encounters them initially in his walks along the beach, and when he helps the boy to launch a kite into the wind, the ice is broken. The boy's young mother is protective of her son as well as suffering herself, partly from the stress of caring for her disabled boy and partly due to estrangement from her family. Gradually Devin becomes close to them, each helping the other to deal with the pains in their lives. Finally, Devin hosts them for a day at the amusement park, closed for the winter but powered-up for this special occasion. It is a wonderful gift for the boy who has until then only observed it from afar.
The mystery of a long-unsolved murder at the amusement part builds very slowly as we get to know Devin and the other characters. Early in his employment at the park Devin learns of the death of a girl who had been on the ride in the house of horrors. Her ghost is said to continue to haunt the park. When one of his co-workers sees the ghost himself, Devin's desire to learn how she was killed and why it was never solved grows until he is consumed by the need to solve the crime. It eventually leads him to uncovering the long-buried truth, a great and surprising climax to the story.