Killing Mr. Griffin
Lois Duncan

Every high school senior has one primary goal in mind: graduation. The end is near, and all you have to do is coast down the homestretch all the way to that high school diploma. Sometimes, however, there is a speed bump in the road that throws your route off: that final course that may keep you from achieving what you have worked so hard to accomplish for the last four years. There is that teacher who seems unreasonably hard; in fact, you are convinced that it is his sole aim to keep you from graduating. Nothing you ever do is good enough; you get all of your papers back covered in red. You’re lucky to get a C, but most of the time you find a D or an F on the top of the first page. What’s worst? The teacher seems to be enjoying himself; he seems to be getting thrills out of marking papers with failing grades. What would you do?

That is the question that the characters in Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin were faced with. How did they solve their problem? The answer is in the title of the book, but you will have to read it to discover the twists and turns that the plot takes as the students execute their plan to teach Mr. Griffin a lesson he’ll never forget. Will they succeed, or will they be the ones who learn the real lesson?

The story starts out by introducing us to the main character, Susan McConnell as she is on her way to school. It’s a windy day, and Susan unsuccessfully tries to help David Ruggles, the Senior Class President, collect the pages of his assignment that are blowing away in the wind. We find out soon after that Susan is not the stereotypical heroin of a story. She is homely, unpopular, and awkward. She doesn’t have friends at school, but she does well in her classes. In fact, she is the only junior in Mr. Griffin’s senior level English class. Even bright Susan is struggling just to maintain B’s in the class. That morning, numerous students confess that they did not have their assignment completed. Mr. Griffin is less than understanding. This sets Mark, another one of the main characters, off. He and Mr. Griffin get into a somewhat heated exchange, but Mr. Griffin is left un-phased. It is here that we also see Susan’s polar opposite: Betsy Cline. She is the head cheerleader and the most popular girl in school. The cast of main characters is rounded out by Betsy’s boyfriend Jeff, the star basketball player.

After school, Mark, Betsy, and Jeff are talking at the Snack n’ Soda when Jeff says that Mr. Griffin is the type of guy you just want to kill. Mark responds by asking why they don’t. Eventually, they decide that they will kidnap Mr. Griffin, but only to scare him. They decide to get Dave involved as well. The final piece of the puzzle is the decoy. They need someone who Mr. Griffin will never expect to lure him out to the parking lot. They decide that nerdy Susan McConnell is the perfect person for the job. They eventually convince both David and Susan to play their parts.

The plan works almost perfectly as the students manage to secure Mr. Griffin and take him to a secluded part of the woods. They want to scare him and teach him a lesson that will hopefully soften him up and be a fairer teacher. They want to show him what it is like to be the one who is being oppressed. Mr. Griffin, however, refuses to beg them to let him go. They decide to leave him alone in the woods for a few hours to see if that will loosen him up. However, David and Susan decide to go back early and let Mr. Griffin go. When they get to the spot where they left him, they discover that Mr. Griffin is dead. They go back and alert the others of what has happened and decide to cover up the murder. Through a series of events, Susan decides that she can no longer hide the fact that they were all somehow involved in Mr. Griffin’s death. Desperate to keep her quiet, Mark ties her up and starts her house on fire. However, a policeman and Mrs. Griffin, who decided to stop by the house to ask Susan questions, arrive just in time to capture Mark and save Susan.

We are not told the fates of the students. However, the reader is left with the sense that Susan will do the right thing and finally tell the truth. We also see a glimpse into the softer side of Mr. Griffin. He must have been a human, not a monster, after all.

This book is for a more mature audience. It has a lot of good lessons about making choices, peer pressure, consequences, and telling the truth. It has a very redeeming quality to it in the end. I would recommend this book to be read by juniors or seniors. Its pace was good, and it kept me guessing all the way. It reminded me of The Battle of Jericho in the way it was written and some of the lessons and conflicts. - MM