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Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

Killing Mr. Griffin (1978)

by Lois Duncan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9453414,274 (3.37)28
A teenager casually suggests playing a cruel trick on the English teacher, but did he intend it to end with murder?
  1. 00
    Blood Crazy by Simon Clark (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Both could have been interesting, but the endings are so grossly trite they read like after school specials. Bad books.
  2. 00
    A Midsummer Night's Death by K. M. Peyton (bookel)

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Brian Griffin is a strict high school English teacher. He doesn't accept late assignments for any reason. He considers an "A" grade to indicate perfection, meaning that even his best students don't get more than a B in his class. He once humiliated one of his students, Mark, making him beg to stay in his class after an incident with one of his assignments, only to tell him "no" and force him to take the class over.

Mr. Griffin's kidnapping starts with Jeff's frustrated and angry mumbling: "That Mr. Griffin's the sort of guy you'd like to kill." From there, Mark hatches a plan to scare Mr. Griffin by kidnapping him and making him think he might be killed. Jeff, Betsy (Jeff's cheerleader girlfriend), and David (senior class president and one of the most popular guys in school) also get involved, as does Susan. Susan is one of the Mr. Griffin's best students. She doesn't exactly like Mr. Griffin, but she doesn't have any reason to want to scare him. She does, however, have a huge crush on David, and it doesn't take much for him to convince her to help. Susan's job will be to make sure Mr. Griffin is in the right place at the right time to be kidnapped, while Jeff, Mark, and David do the actual kidnapping. Betsy is supposed to provide the guys their alibis. Unfortunately for everyone, the kidnapping does not go as planned.

I had hoped to check out Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer to read for my "Slasher Stories" square in Halloween Bingo, but my library didn't have that. Killing Mr. Griffin sounded interesting, though, so I decided to give it a go.

Killing Mr. Griffin is on the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged YA books. While trying to track down information about why it was challenged (for "violence and sexual content," according to the ALA), I came across a 2015 article describing a group in Collier County, Florida trying to get it removed from school libraries.

I didn't know any of that going in, but the title did a good job of signalling that Mr. Griffin was at least going to be in peril, and quite possibly end up dead. After Chapter 5 and its depiction of Mr. Griffin's home life, his true thoughts about his students, and his motivations, I was hopeful that the book would end up being a thriller in which readers would frequently worry that Mr. Griffin would end up dead but that he'd somehow make it until the end. Duncan dashed those hopes much more quickly than I expected.

I really liked the first few chapters of the book, which gave readers peeks at several of the main characters and the things that drove them. Susan was a shy girl who enjoyed writing, secretly had a huge crush on David, and felt overshadowed by her beautiful family members. Although David seemed perfect and untroubled at school, his home life was a different story. His dad left without a word a while back, and his mom probably saw too much of his father in him. His grandmother on his dad's side lived with them and had him at her beck and call whenever he was home, even though he strongly suspected she moved around just fine when he wasn't there. Mr. Griffin, meanwhile, had a happy life with his pregnant wife. He'd quit his higher paying job at the University of Albuquerque to teach high school students, hoping to give them the foundation they needed in order to thrive in college.

It was good stuff, even if the language was a bit dated. Unfortunately, I began to enjoy it less and less as the characters struggled to cover up what they'd done and, in Susan's case at least, deal with their crushing sense of guilt. This was not the kind of book where the cops were idiots, and these teens weren't criminal masterminds. In the end, I felt like I was just waiting to see which aspect of the crime would fall apart first. It wasn't so much suspenseful as it was frustrating.

The ending was both a bit over-the-top (the big confrontation) and depressing (the note). Although I didn't particularly enjoy the direction the story went after the kidnapping, and how things turned out, the last chapter would make for an excellent group discussion on guilt, peer pressure, and how the adults' interpretation of the events differed from how Susan likely viewed it all.

Additional Comments:

Apparently this book was "updated" at some point to include references to more modern technology, such as iPods and DVDs, without updating the dated feel of the dialogue and overall language. I read the original version of the book and, from the sounds of things, that's the best way to go if you can manage it.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Sep 10, 2018 |
Well written tale of teenagers being led by their peers and their desire to fit in.
158 ( )
  Bettesbooks | May 29, 2017 |
[Killing Mr. Griffin] by Lois Duncan

From The Book:
They only meant to scare him.

Mr. Griffin is the strictest teacher at Del Norte High, with a penchant for endless projects and humiliating his students. Even straight-A student Susan can't believe how mean he is to the charismatic Mark Kinney. So when her crush asks Susan to help a group of students teach a lesson of their own, she goes along. After all, it's a harmless prank, right? But things don't go according to plan. When one "accident" leads to another, people begin to die. Susan and her friends must face the awful truth: one of them is a killer.

My Views:
If you have a few hours on your hands or just want to read something that doesn't weigh 500 pounds or is composed of 700 pages...this little jewel is your new best friend. In spite of someone thinking that it should be banned...it was one of the best books I've read this year. I guess I can see the reason for "banning" it but believe me teens read much worse than this every day.

We have all had a teacher like Mr. Griffin. A teacher that demanded that we actually work to get the grade. Most of us though don't respond by kidnapping said teacher and inadvertently killing them. The students are just too young or too immature to see things from Mr. Griffin's side...they just know that English is no longer the breeze it was last year. So a group of students decide to try and change things but the plan was a disaster waiting to happen from the start. one of the perpetrators was charismatic but with sociopathic tendencies...one was the class president and never thought he's be suspected.... one was a star athlete that everyone liked and admired... and then there was the "Queen Bee"...the one that gets voted home coming Queen just because she breathes. They needed a decoy so they enlist the class geek Susan because she just wants to be liked. Unfortunately for them this complicates things because she out of the entire group has a conscience. Things fall apart soon due to both poor planning and sheer bad luck.

Unlike some teen books, this one attempts to give the various adults' viewpoints as well as the students. It raises some questions about nature or nurture, but can be read simply for entertainment. ( )
  Carol420 | Apr 24, 2017 |
This short, older YA book packed quite a wallop of emotion. Although I am already familiar with Duncan's talented writing, I was still surprised how sad and tragic this book came across. It gives an interesting perspective for that special teacher who pushes kids too hard and doesn't listen to excuses.

Throw in the fascinating mixture of teens - a young, shy girl who is a loner and falls too easily as prey into the grips of others because she's that desperate for attention; a cute girl who has learned to manipulate everyone from a young age and has no remorse because of how spoiled she is; a jock who is a decent kid who doesn't think much for himself; and ultimately a psychopath, serial killer in the making, someone who cares for no ones and easily manipulates others. Disturbing stuff.

This short book really packs a punch, as I have said, of emotion on so many levels. So sad. The ending was a heartbreaking wrap-up that really affected me - I genuinely felt for Mr. Griffin. Pacing is strong and steady, and there are several gasp, "oh no" moments with demented twists. Duncan's stylized, subtle writing accompanies the bizarre story perfectly. It's deeper than it seems once you get past the initial layers.

Much better than the book that became the movie, 'I know what you did last summer'. Certainly an underrated gem from Lois Duncan. Highly recommended if you find it. ( )
  ErinPaperbackstash | Jun 14, 2016 |
My daughter had this as assigned reading in freshman year so I read it also...ugh. I still can't really figure out what literary lesson could be learned in school by reading this. It was not really suspenseful but tried to be. It was written for YA but even as such, I can't give it more than a "I read the whole thing" as its review. ( )
  ER1116 | Jan 13, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lois Duncanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sala, EdNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was a wild, windy, southwestern spring when the idea of killing Mr. Griffin occured to them.
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