Sunday, May 10, 2015

kmgld Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan | Rating: ★★★★☆

"It's only by facing things that you ever put them behind you."

The thing about losing a loved one, for me, is that I seem to want to dive into the past in any way possible. Grab that old sweater I loved when I was a teen, snuggle a stuffed animal I haven’t brought out of storage since childhood, skim through the pages of a once-beloved-novel. I suppose I revert back to comfortable memories and nostalgic tendencies just to avoid my own feelings, and that’s okay.

Because, eventually, I do embrace said feelings to move on. There’s no use dwelling on the past, but there’s no harm in a brief walk down memory lane so long as you come back from it quickly.

Today is just not that day. This is why I’ve decided to begin looking back at my oldest, dearest, most beat up pieces of literature to simply write about them and reminisce. Because, why not? This specific spring day is absolutely perfect for the memories.

Killing Mr. Griffin was one of the very first books I obsessed over (I’m not kidding, it stayed with me for years after the first read – I even loved the cheesy, made for television adaption of it) and as an early teen, no one’s writing took me on a frightening thrill ride quite like Lois Duncan.

She is, and always will be, one of the queens of suspense in the young adult genre - her work has aged incredibly well (with a few exceptions in phrases and names, which isn't anything to get riled up about if you recall the original print date) even now in the decades that have passed since publication.


Even if you aren’t familiar with her work by her name alone, it is likely you’ve seen loose adaptions based upon specific stories. I Know What You Did Last Summer perhaps being the most prominent one and Stranger With My Face being the most recent.

In 2005, while in middle school, I was assigned Killing Mr. Griffin for an English project. I remember scoffing at the names and the way they talked and yet I found myself drawn to the settings, the plots, the characters and the spine tingling way Lois portrayed everything. When I flipped my pages back to read how old it was, the names suddenly made sense. And the, shock: it was just too good. Impossible to put down.

At the time, it felt like Lois Duncan could probably make a glass of orange juice frightening if she wanted to and this is what connects a younger audience to her books and continues to captivate them all these years later. She writes her books for a younger crowd, perhaps to give them their first taste of thrillers, so her writing is simple and to the point. Reading them now reminds me of sitting at a campfire and being told spooky stories.

Back to the review. When you’re in school and have a reading assignment, especially at such a young age, you almost never expect to enjoy the story you’re studying - but Lois’ writing draws you in and refuses to let you go; leading you down a fast track of having finally found something good to read. Lois, in other words, made reading fun and simple.

(And spooky.)

Most of the peers in my class loved it just as much as I did. A group of high school students, a majority of them being decent kids who just do idiotic things, decide to play a prank on their overly mean teacher, Mr. Griffin to “teach him a lesson.” Their plot is stirring in rather quickly: they'll 'kidnap' him, they'll have some fun with it and scare him a bit, and then they'll let him go.

But, as they say, sometimes even some of the best laid plans go wrong…

We all have known a teacher like Mr. Griffin. He’s tough on his students, he isn’t always the most likeable or patient guy – if you haven’t experienced a teacher of this variety, you’ve at least known someone who has. Where there is school, there will always be a Mr. Griffin.

It’s easy to see why a group of silly, angsty teenagers seek out ‘revenge’ against a man who seemingly makes their hours at school unbearable. And things go horribly wrong for the lot of them. It’s very fun, engaging and scary to read it all unfold, to see certain characters true colours and to see the eventual impact this prank had on their futures. Lois manages to tie in all the plots and characters together and still keep her readers on the edge of their seats.

It's a whole new world for its target audience and it's absolutely thrilling.

There’s just something about Lois Duncan that makes her books impossible to sit aside. Killing Mr. Griffin is perhaps the best example --it's a world that preteens and teens can see reflected in their own, in spite of the differences in time. These characters, their minds, their troubles and the frightening nature could easily be their peers. She covers great details, portrays the teenage mind of angst perfectly. Her stories keep you on the edge of your seat, allows you to get to know the minds of her characters and will leave you tingling with disturbance when it comes to the darker minds of certain characters.

Ahem, the mastermind behind this prank, for instance. And his decisions throughout the novel – certainly, he is spooky. He is a villain to his core and it's very fascinating reading about him, as well as the other kids. I may just be biased, but Killing Mr. Griffin is and always will be one of my favorites in all areas of the young adult genre. It's a highly enjoyable read that was also my first taste of its genre; you feel for the surviving characters and wonder, after the climax and the outcome, where their futures landed.

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