Book Review: Killing Mr. Griffin

May 7, 2010

That Griffin’s the sort of guy you’d like to kill.

Killing Mr. GriffinI picked up Killing Mr. Griffin at the library book sale because I remembered there being a movie with a similar title and plot (Killing Teaching Mrs. Tingle; the two are not related).  Plus, it’s Lois Duncan!  She of I Know What You Did Last Summer fame.  Right-o.  The basic plot is that Jeff’s offhand remark about wanting to kill Mr. Griffin is picked up on by his friend Mark.  They kidnap Mr. Griffin (because killing him is wrong, see?) to scare him, and then, well, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.

What I Liked

– The characters are A+, and I really like the way the narrative is structured.  It’s in third person and switches perspective throughout.  So not only do we get inside the heads of Jeff, Susan, Betsy, and Dave, but we also get to see what Mrs. Griffin thinks and Mark’s adoptive parents think and Dave’s grandmother thinks.  It works really well to set the scene for the book and to show the effect the teens’ actions have on the people around them.  I also like it because it shows that people recognize something isn’t quite right, even if they can’t put their finger on what’s wrong.

– Mr. Griffin!  Mr. Griffin speaks to my SOUL as a teacher of composition on the college level.  He leaves the university to teach high school English because:

Ask them to write about something, and they can’t make complete sentences, much less spell anything over two syllables. […]  By the time they’re in college, it’s gone too far.  They’ve had twelve years without disciplined learning, and they don’t know how to apply themselves.  They haven’t learned to study or to pace their work so that projects get completed on time.  They fall asleep in lectures because they expect to be entertained, not educated.

So what will he do differently?

I’d teach, damn it!  I wouldn’t baby them or play games with them.  I’d push each one into doing the best work of which he or she was capable.  By the time they finished a class with me, my college prep students would be able to handle university work. [And for those who aren’t college prep?] The others would graduate with a knowledge of what disciplined work is all about.  That should stand them in good stead, no matter what they decide to do.

SUH-WOON.  Mr. Griffin, will you marry me?

Of course, I probably would’ve hated him in high school, truth be told.  It seems like nothing his students do is good enough.  At one point, his wife tells him he needs to be more encouraging to the students and less of a hardass.  He tries, in his way, but then he gets kidnapped.  And dies.  Ah well.

– I also like how the kids are affected by their actions (or not, in the case of Mark).  And how everything just spirals more and more out of control.  I also like how Susan knows the thing to do is immediately get help, but it’s believable how she’s shut down and why she shuts up.

– The definition of a psychopath is very clearly laid out in the text.  I’ll let you guess who it is.

– The book is so 1970s.  It’s kind of awesome.

What I Didn’t Like

– There is a pretty big plot point that is NOT resolved.  That drove me batty.  I guess we’re supposed to come to our own conclusions about it, but I really wish it had been specifically addressed at the end.

– Also, the resolution is mostly exposition, and I really would’ve liked to see some of the stuff happen on page.  It makes sense that it doesn’t, but it was very much “and then this happened and this happened and this happened” instead of “LET ME SHOW YOU WHAT HAPPENED.”

– I am not so sure I believe the consequences for the characters.

In conclusion:  An intriguing and intense read.  I really wanted to know how everything was going to go, and even with that one loose end, everything is wrapped up satisfactorily.

YA Reading Challenge:  16/75

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