I first read this book fifteen or more years ago. I was on a real Lois Duncan streak then. I loved her works, especially Down a Dark Hall, which had a profound effect on me – I reread it last year and it still creeped me out. Having said that, I don’t remember what I felt about Killing Mr. Griffin in my youth. I don’t remember it being particularly memorable. That was one of the reasons I wanted to reread it. Unfortunately, in rereading it, I found it really didn’t live up to the Duncan standards I’m used to. Maybe that’s because I’m too old for it now, or maybe not. Like I said, I got real creeped out when I reread a different Duncan book last year.
The story starts with a group of stereotypes: the jock; the cute, popular cheerleader; the sensitive, good-looking class president; the shy, ugly, nerd girl; and the Mr. Cool psychopath. They are all together in Mr. Griffin’s English class, and all are struggling. Mr. Cool suggests to Cheerleader and Jock that they kidnap Mr. Griffin and rough him up a bit, threatening to kill him. They want to deflate his ego and make him a shell of a man, so he’ll go easier on everyone in class. They draw Class President and Nerd Girl into the plot, and somehow manage to pull it off, at least as far as kidnapping and taking Mr. Griffin to a secluded spot in the woods. There, however, plans go awry, as Mr. Griffin has angina and dies of heart failure while they’ve left him to stew in fear for a few hours. The rest of the book is about how the kids deal with the death.
This isn’t the best of Duncan’s books. I’ve read a lot of them, and this one is supposed to be fairly acclaimed, but I just didn’t see the development that shows in her other works. The plot was predictable (yes, I’d read it before, but didn’t remember anything), the characters were cardboard, and the resolution was too simple. It also seemed to have a lot of things in there purely for shock value. While I really liked YA thrillers at one point in my life, I think books like this burnt me out on the genre. Duncan usually did a good job of making her thrillers unique, but this one followed the same pattern as all thrillers, and I get so tired of diecast plots. I like there to be something – at least one thing – to make the book unique. I’m afraid this didn’t have it.
Then again, maybe something in here was unique in 1978 when it came out. Were some of those stereotypes not around yet then? Maybe this book was one of the revelations of YA thriller, and I’d just read so many that it felt cliche to me. I have no evidence to the contrary. But whatever the reason, it felt cliched and stereotyped to me, and I didn’t enjoy it very much. If you’re going to read Duncan, I’d suggest starting with a different book.
Note: Review date is only an approximate of when this book was read/reviewed in 2008.
Note: Originally read in ~1993/1994-ish.