Joyland by Emily Schultz, illustrated by Nate Powell (ECW), 296 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Halfway through joyland, I called my brother in Vancouver to tell him about it. I saw so much of our childhood reflected in its pages - the fights over Frogger, the arrival of the Commodore 64 - I wanted to mail him a copy.
At the book's Toronto launch, the author signed my copy, "Feathered hair and jelly shoes, Emily Schultz." Her novel takes the cultural signifiers of an early 80s childhood, adorns two perfectly rendered awkward teenagers with rich detail and takes off.
It's structured imaginatively on the architecture of our earliest video games. Once Schultz has the reader learning how to advance to the next level, she kills us off and makes us keep playing, building effortless suspense as the two main characters a brother (Player One) and sister (Player Two) feel the weight of their choices. Chris and Tammy Lane are authentically their age, geeky, yearning and urgently confused by their desires.
In June of 1984 the youth of South Wakefield are bored. Their beloved arcade, Joyland, closes its doors just as pre-teen Tammy is beginning to figure out her place among the blinking lights and concentrated stares that symbolize teen freedom, sex and rebellion.
After Joyland's demise, she takes her place in a high backyard tree and watches the goings on in her outwardly sleepy town. She's especially concerned with all things related to her older brother Chris and his friends, who circle each other on BMXs with increasing hostility. Drama builds to a violent climax.
Early video games provide a book-length metaphor that never weakens or hinders the uniquely told story, vividly illustrated by Nate Powell.
Small-town children of the 80s will relish the uniquely resonant moments of the time, which Schultz paints perfectly in this captivating first novel.
Emily Schultz is on the Toronto Small Press Book Fair readings roster Saturday (June 3) at the Victory Café. See Readings, this page.