Mr. Griffin is the strictest teacher at Del Norte High, with a penchant for endless projects and humiliating his students. Even straight-A student Susan can't believe how mean he is to the charismatic Mark Kinney. So when her crush asks Susan to help a group of students teach a lesson of their own, she goes along. After all, it's a harmless prank, right?
But things don't go according to plan. When one "accident" leads to another, people begin to die. Susan and her friends must face the awful truth: one of them is a killer.
Killing Mr. Griffin is a suspenseful novel with very human characters. The premise for this novel, teenagers plotting to kidnap and scare their strict English teacher, is pretty cool but creepy. When I first read this as a kid in third grade, I really, really liked it. It could be because I was reading a story about teenagers, but it could also be because the tension is gradually built up. The fear isn’t so much about the horror of what the characters do, but more about how cool and collected one of the characters is throughout the majority of the novel. Seriously, if I were to run into this guy, I’d turn the other way and run away screaming because he is so terrifying.
The story features alternating storylines. They’re pretty interwoven from the get-go and don’t necessarily focus on one character at a time. There are brief stints with the main characters’ parents, but other than developing some of the characters’ traits, they don’t do much else. These random tangents aside, the secondary plots with Mr. Griffin’s wife and David’s grandmother work pretty okay, one more strongly than the other. They serve as other perspectives to the main plot and merge with it well later on.
Susan can readily be pointed out as the protagonist since she goes through the most growth and we follow her more than the other four main characters. Of the other characters, Jeff and Betsy fit more or less into the typical jock and cheerleader molds. David and Mark are slightly unusual in that they are only children from broken families. David is really kind and the most sympathetic of the main characters. He is probably my favorite character of the bunch. Mark is harder to figure out since he doesn’t fit into any stereotypical high school role but is still somewhat popular.
What about the title character? Well, we do get one scene of him with his students and another of him with his wife. The main characters talk about how mean he is, but that’s about all there is. For me, it would’ve been more effective to have those scenes play in flashbacks, especially the scene with Mark since he is the most bitter towards Mr. Griffin. Having had a few tough teachers in high school and college, I think this would’ve served as better justification as to why the characters want to do something to Mr. Griffin.
Something I enjoyed spotting that I don’t think I fully appreciated as a kid was the seventies mannerisms. Some of the names, the clothes, and the expressions are pretty dated and work within the context of this edition (on a side note, a lot of these references survived in the updated edition, which kind of takes away from the “updating”).
One thing that left me unsatisfied was the uncertainty of the ending. While the antagonist’s fate is pretty obvious even though we don’t see it, the outcomes for the other four aren’t as clear. The big question for me is with Susan. She is presented with two options at the end, and I want to know what she will pick given the implications of her decision. Another problem I had with the ending was how rushed it felt. One moment we’re left with an incredibly tense cliffhanger, then we fast-forward to almost two weeks later with Susan and her mother talking about what happened. There’s not enough material for a sequel in my mind, but I think there is definitely enough for a few more chapters and a more satisfying ending.
While the kids never planned his death, the ways they go about trying to cover their roles in it are pretty clever at certain points. It seems like they could get away with it, but ultimately we don’t know for sure. I still think Duncan could’ve written a few more chapters on that, but I can sort of see her reasoning in stopping where she did. On one hand, I like the characters and the thrills of the plot, but the uncertainty of the ending left me hanging. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.