This also qualifies as a Bargain Bookshelf entry. Yay for double-duty posts!
Scouring thrift store bookshelves so you don’t have to!
The last time I was in Savers I went on a YA book bender. Thanks to generous donors and the magic of “buy three get one free” I scored a ton of stuff but the ultimate find was Lois Duncan’s KILLING MR. GRIFFIN. I read this in the eighth grade and it resonated with me because I harbored a seething hate for my math teacher that burned with the fiery heat of a million suns. She skipped the algebra unit because “we wouldn’t need it.” She only called on the boys because she thought they were better at math. She made the girls kneel to make sure our uniform skirt hems hit the ground. I plotted her grisly demise countless times in my head so I don’t condone what these kids did, but I understand.
STRIPED SHIRT: “Our futures are down there!”
BLONDIE: “I think I lost my earrings.”
SMUG BASTARD: “Grade that!”
DONNY OSMOND: “God, my hand is huge.”
Mr. Griffin teaches English literature and his interests include Shakespeare and making high school an even more hellish experience for his students. Mr.Griffin goes too far when he gives the most popular kids in the Senior class the business for not turning in their homework assignment, a final song for Hamlet’s emotional punching bag, Ophelia. Mr. Griffin cares not that Sis-Boom-Bah Betsy Cline didn’t “get” the story, Jock Jeff Garrett is having a time management problem, and Dazzling David Ruggles lost half of his paper in a freak windstorm on the walk to school. F’s for everyone! Maniacal Mark Kinney, Mr. Griffin’s favorite piñata and Jeff’s longtime buddy, observes the incident with carefully calculated psychosis detachment and crafts a plan to put a scare in Old Man Griffin: kidnap him and make him think he’s going to die!
Meanwhile at the Snack-‘n-Soda Shop
That the plan for this feast of felonies is discussed in such an innocuous place over Cokes and hamburgers is just one of the many amazing things about this story. Jeff’s been walking on insanity-colored eggshells around Mark for years, yet he buys into this scheme with barely a second thought. Betsy is Jeff’s girlfriend but she’s hot for Mark, so of course she’s down for whatever. They need a fourth to call the corners, so Mark says David will do it because “he likes a challenge.” Then, taking a sip from his pimp cup, he convinces David to fake-date mousy, grade-grinding Sweet Susan McConnell so she’ll agree to lure Mr. Griffin into their trap.
‘But why?’ Susan asked. ‘What’s the reason for it all? People don’t get kidnapped without a reason.’
‘The reason is he deserves it,’ Mark said sharply. ‘Does there have to be any other reason than that? He’s an asshole. He’s out to flunk all of us. Maybe if we shake him up a little he’ll get off this power trip of his and start treating us like human beings.’
Lois Duncan is truly gifted. Her idyllic portraits of small town life, earnest kids, loving families, and caring adults suck you in so brilliantly that you’re woefully unprepared when the entire lot inevitably goes to hell in a handbasket. KILLING MR. GRIFFIN is especially insidious because there are very few of us who haven’t done something incredibly stupid at a friend’s suggestion, gone against our better judgment to impress someone, or failed to recognize ulterior motives. Newer editions include “modernized” text, which most likely means Mr. Griffin carries a debit card instead of a checkbook and the kids don’t walk “Indian file” into the woods. I suggest you read the original and then compare it to the 1997 movie version, which is eighty-nine minutes of “All That”-era awesomeness.