Lois Duncan's YA suspense novel, Killing Mr. Griffin, is bone-chilling. Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico the story is primarily told through the viewpoint of mousy, smart and bespectacled Susan McConnell. She is secretly in love with David, the popular and good looking senior class president. It is this crush that lands Susan in trouble. David's crowd, Betsy, Jeff and Mark, the clever psychopath puppeteer of the group, are caught up into serious circumstances that tumble widely out of control.
Mr. Griffin, their demanding, perfectionist English teacher, has created enemies within Mark's cold-hearted group. Mark, who after a serious run-in with the teacher, is especially vehement. He uses his control over his friends to pull a prank on the disliked teacher. Mark, aware of Susan's crush on David, uses this emotional attachment to persuade her to be the decoy in their masterminded prank. She agrees to it, happy to be part of a group and with the boy of her dreams. On page 51 the reader gets a taste of the doom to come when they read: "Never, Susan thought deliriously, never in all the time to come will I ever, ever be as happy as I am right now. And she was right."
The plan is to kidnap Mr. Griffin, take him to the mountains and give him a taste of his own medicine. When he begs to be released the students plan on letting him go, ending the prank. Everything is going as according to planned until he refuses to beg. They leave him to go to a basketball game and plan on returning after it to see if he is then willing to plead. The plot thickens when Susan and David return early and find that he has died of a heart attack, brought on by the tension and the lack of his prescription medicine. From this point on the teens fall into a series of frantic cover-ups such as burying the body and hiding and painting his car. In the end his buried body is discovered and all the pieces are put together by Griffin's pregnant wife and the police, incriminating the teens.
The reader is given a glimpse into each of the characters lives at home and the people who care for them. The primary characters are all very well developed. Before the readers eyes is painted a mural of teens, most of them stereotypical stock characters, that the reader can identify as students that they just might find at their very own school.
Susan falls into the peer pressure trap and conforms to a group. She will regret it for the rest of her life. A transformation occurs in the character from the beginning of the story to the end. The event seems to have hardened her, making her grow up faster then any child should. The last paragraph in the book states:
"If she had been the Susan of two weeks before, she would have wept, but this new Susan had cried herself dry of tears. She replaced the paper in the drawer and went to comb her hair."
According to Nilsen and Dinelson, this book frequently is on censored lists. A 1999 article in Teacher Magazine stated that a parent complained about the book to the school board in New Jersey. They were distressed about the book, although they are hesitant to censor it. Below are some of the five star reviews on the book sent in to Amazon.com. (copied directly from Killer Reviews in Teacher Magazine):
The image of masked figures stuffing a bag over an ugly teacher's head and the body's arms moving just made me laugh. If you ever had a teacher you really hated, you might understand. I wonder if Lois Duncan ever had a teacher she hated.
This book puts you on the edge of your seat. I definitely recommend that everyone who has ever thought of harming a teacher should read this book. Then I bet you wouldn't even think about it.
I felt as if I was part of the group that murdered him. I loved the fact that it was a thing that many high schoolers have thought about doing but have never actually done. It dealed [sic] with a lot of things like having to deal with a death and what you have to do in order to make it right again. Even though I wouldn't have hidden the body and the evidence, I think that most kids would have. A lot of kids have a fear of getting in trouble so they hide everything.
This book was extremely well-written and bone-chilling. If you can't read about killing your teacher, then what else is there to read?
This book is way better than I Know What You Did and I think they (movie makers) should've made this book into a movie instead.
I chose this book for my book report in, duh, English. Our English teacher sorta acted scared when she read the part that they killed their English teacher.
I thought Killing Mr. Griffin was a cool book, even though it was totally unrealistic. Like you would ever kill your teacher that way? Hello!
Duncan has written a must-read for any mystery lover. As a high school English teacher, I have read countless books searching for just the right one to grab my reluctant freshmen readers. At long last, I have found it. I watched as students fell head over heals [sic] into the story. They moaned when the bell rang and read chapters ahead at home. The book also stimulated incredible in-class discussion.
Like all books that deal with something disturbing, it is better to talk about it then to hide it or sweep it under the rug. The issue of conforming to other people's values and beliefs, disregarding your own, can lead to a lot of compromising situations (hopefully not as extreme as killing a teacher.) Is it not better to learn from mistakes learned through a character in a book than in real life?
Duncan, Lois. 1978. Killing Mr. Griffin. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN: 0-440-94515-1.
1999. Killer Reviews. Teacher Magazine. 10(7):47. In EBSCOHost [database online]. Available from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.epnet.com/login.asp?profile=web&defaultdb=tfh. Accessed 6 October 03.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Kenneth L. Donelson. 2001. Literature for today's young adults. 6th ed. New York: Longman.