Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan ISBN: 978-031609900, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Revised edition (October 5, 2010)
Mr. Griffin is a tough high school English teacher. His assignments are hard and he always gives out bad grades. Even Susan McConnell, who always gets straight As is only managing to get by with Bs. Students are worried about not being able to graduate and Dave, the class president, needs to get a good grade to get a scholarship. Mark, a budding sociopath, attempts to plagiarize a college paper that his girlfriend has supplied him, but is caught. After Mr. Griffin refuses to accept any late papers the day after a high school basketball game, Mark, Dave, Jeff, and Betsy have finally had enough. They form a plan to kidnap Mr. Griffin and scare him into giving them better grades. Mark, a master manipulator, manages to get everyone to go along with the plan. They even convince Susan, who has a crush on Dave, to plan to meet with Mr. Griffin so that they can grab him. They blindfold the teacher and tie him up, then take him to a remote location in the mountains and threaten him. Mr. Griffin does not bow to the threats. When they find his heart medication in his pocket, they toss the pills out on the ground. Unable to make any headway, they decide to leave him tied up overnight. Unable to take his medication, Mr. Griffin suffers a fatal heart attack and dies. Susan begs Dave to go check on him and the two discover his dead body. After alerting the others, Mark makes a plan to cover up the death. The only problem is that Mr. Griffin’s pregnant wife, Kathy, will not let up, and both Mark and Kathy know that Susan is the weak link.
Killing Mr. Griffin is a classic young adult mystery and like many writers of mystery/thriller novels, Lois Duncan is a master of rising tension. By the end of the story the reader feels a sick sort of panic in sympathy with the characters. This story is well paced and while the premise does not sound entirely plausible, Duncan manages to make it work by including the character of Mark, an extremely observant young man with no conscience. The character of Mark is portrayed as someone who enjoys inflicting pain and is easily able to manipulate the others by playing on their fears, vanities, and loves. The other characters all exhibit some level of weakness, but none more so than Susan, who knows that what is being planned is wrong, but goes along with it because of her crush on Dave. Susan is the weak point in the story and readers may feel annoyed by her actions and mental wonderings. This book was written in 1978, and so the language is somewhat dated, but it is still enjoyable today.
Information about the author:
Lois Duncan was born in Philadelphia, PA, and grew up in Sarasota, FL.
She knew from early childhood that she wanted to be a writer. She submitted her first story to a magazine at age 10 and became published at 13. Throughout her high school years she wrote regularly for young people’s publications, particularly Seventeen.
As an adult, Lois moved to Albuquerque, NM, where she taught magazine writing for the Journalism Department at the University of New Mexico and continued to write for magazines. Over 300 of her articles and stories appeared in such publications as Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, and Reader’s Digest, and for many years she was a contributing editor for Woman’s Day.
Lois is the author of over 50 books, ranging from children’s picture books to poetry to adult non-fiction, but is best known for her young adult suspense novels, which have received Young Readers Awards in 16 states and three foreign countries. In 1992, Lois was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award, presented by the School Library Journal and the ALA Young Adult Library Services Association for “a distinguished body of adolescent literature.” In 2009, she received the Katharine Drexel Award, awarded by the Catholic Library Association “to recognize an outstanding contribution by an individual to the growth of high school and young adult librarianship and literature.”
When Mark, Dave, Jeff and Betsy kidnap Mr. Griffin, killing him was not part of the plan, but sometimes plans go awry.
Have you ever had a really tough teacher?
Grades 9 to 12
I would make sure that all material was purchased in accordance with my library’s collection development policy and make sure to keep a file containing positive reviews for books that I thought might be challenged. In the event of a challenge, I would actively listen to the parent’s concern and ask if they had read the book. I would then explain why the book had been added to the collection and provide with the reviews and a copy of the collection development policy. I would affirm that they are within their rights to limit what their children read, but that other parents also have the right to determine what their children can read. If all else failed, I would provide the parent with a reconsideration form.
Reasons for inclusion:
I wanted to include at least one mystery