Killing Mr. Griffin, Lois Duncan

Synopsis: Mr. Griffin is a tough English teacher: he won’t accept anything late, even from class president Dave Rutters;  he won’t succumb to Betsy Cline’s cuteness when she doesn’t understand the assignment; he even made Mark Kinney beg for a second chance in his class. When Mark’s buddy Jeff makes an off-hand comment about wanting to kill Mr. Griffin, he begins to plot an elaborate plan to scare him to death.

They invite sweet, straight-A earning junior Sue McConnell to hang out with them. As she has a huge crush on Dave, she’s all about it. They include her in on the plan to scare Griffin by asking her to request a meeting with him. After the meeting, they plan to kidnap him and  scare him a bit.

The morning before Sue’s meeting, we meet Brian Griffin at home with his pregnant wife Kathy.  She talks to him about being too hard on his students, especially the good ones like Sue.  She panics before he leaves, like a horrible feeling it’ll be the last time she sees him. (Way to go, foreshadowing. I mean, not that we couldn’t have figured out that it would be the last time she saw him after the title of the book, but whatevs.)

So, the plan happens. Sue bails out after the meeting because when Griffin gets grabbed, he yells “Run!” to her to protect her. The others (Jeff, Betsy, Mark, and Dave) take him to a special place that Mark and his ex Lana found with a waterfall and such. They find his prescription for his angina, and Mark stomps on the pills. Then they decide since he won’t beg for mercy, they’ll leave him for the night. Dave goes by Sue’s house later that evening, and she asks to go untie Griffin. Sadly, as you’d’ve already guessed, he died because of his heart condition.

So, they spend the rest of the book hiding his death. They bury Griffin, they feed lies to the police, but Kathy’s pretty smart and knows that Sue is BSing them big time (Sue being the last person who saw him, and a horrible liar). Later, Lana went on a hike with her new boyfriend and she found the prescription bottle. The police figure out where he is (the big mound of fresh dirt).  Dave took Griffin’s college ring because it reminded him of his father, and his grandma took it from him. So there’s another liability. They also paint Griffin’s car.

Betsy, Jeff, and Mark need alibis so they can drop off Griffin’s car on the nearby reservation. Betsy says she’s at Sue’s while Jeff says he’s at Dave’s. Well, when they call Dave, it doesn’t fly because they’re having a wake for his grandma who died that morning. A neighbor said gma was talking to a boy in a brown sweater right before it happened. Sue realizes Mark killed gma because he always wears brown. Mark sends the other two out to wait for him, and he ties up Sue and starts cooking the curtains. Luckily for Sue, Kathy and Police Detective Baca were coming over to question her, and they arrest the right people and she gets to live.

Bookworm Commentary:

  • DANG IT. Who else thought of Brian Griffin of Family Guy and Kathy Griffin, the D-lister?  And you KNOW Brian would be the obnoxious English teacher.
  • They also had Kathy pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen (to be fair, Brian offered to let her sleep in and he’d make his own eggs). Way to go, Duncan, with the stereotypes.
  • Griffin doesn’t have the right balance as a high school teacher yet. He was a college prof pissed that his students came to college with no basic English skills. You have to give carrots AND sticks.
  • Mark is described as a psychopath. No kiddin’. He only killed his dad, teacher, a friend’s grandmother and attempted to kill a classmate before getting caught.  Mark was already on Griffin’s bad list because he plagiarized from a college paper that Griffin had read a couple years back. Real classy guy…
  • The others are typical high school followers. Betsy’s the cute girl trying to impress the only person who doesn’t think she’s cute. Jeff is Mark’s BFF, mostly hanging out with Mark cuz the ‘rents don’t understand. Sue is the unpopular smart girl who wants to fit in. Dave’s the class president, and he fits in superficially but he’s got more issues than can be admitted to.

Class Stuff:
Grades: 7/8-Above. It’s pretty dark stuff. It would be a PG-13 movie as it is.
Grade: C.
I previously wrote about my difficulty in reading this book. It turned out better than expected, but will never be a favorite. After all, they killed someone (albeit accidentally) for doing his job.

Challenge-worthy? (This week, for banned/challenged books, I’ll add a note about why it was challenged and if it deserved it.)  This book is something you’d want to be careful with. It can teach a kid that hanging out with the wrong people can get you in way over your head. It also can teach the technicality than if you’re a minor that commits a felony, well, sorry, your youth won’t help you.  I can totally understand why it was challenged, because it’s violent to a certain extent and there’s a lot of death going around, and a lot of peer-pressure in it as well.

Would I fight to keep this book in my classroom? No. You can’t exactly teach Duncan (no exploring allegories here or anything), although I’d put her on the shelf for reading choices. Would I observe carefully who picked this one? If the class psychopath chose this one, definitely.

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Filed under Challenged/Banned Book, Realistic, Scary

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