42 pages 1 hour read

Lois Duncan

Killing Mr. Griffin

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1978

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Summary and Study Guide


Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan, published in 1978, is a young adult thriller novel about a group of teenagers who are manipulated into killing their high school English teacher. The novel explores issues of peer pressure, guilt, and misguided anger. Many attempts to ban this novel have been successful over the years due to its themes about violence, murder, and defiance of authority.

In 1997, Killing Mr. Griffin was adapted into a film by NBC Studios.

Plot Summary

Mr. Griffin is an overly strict high school English teacher, whose students hate him for his inflexibility and constant critiques. Mark, one of his students, proposes to his friends Betsy and Jeff that they kill Mr. Griffin, but he amends his plan to kidnapping Mr. Griffin to scare him into being nicer to his students. They get Dave, the senior class president, to participate, as well as Susan, a junior who is known as a nerd and for her major crush on Dave.

Mark easily convinces everyone to act on the plan due to his persuasive and powerful personality. Susan keeps Mr. Griffin late after school talking about her work, and Dave attacks Mr. Griffin when he gets in his car. Jeff and Mark join in, and they kidnap Mr. Griffin and bring him to a deserted waterfall. The students tie Mr. Griffin up and gag him. Betsy finds his bottle of pills he needs to care for his angina. They refuse to give him the pills, and Mark refuses to untie him until he begs for their forgiveness. Betsy, Dave, Jeff, and Mark leave Mr. Griffin tied and gagged by the waterfall. When Susan finds out that Mr. Griffin was left outside, she insists that Dave bring her to free him. When Susan and Dave find Mr. Griffin again, he is dead. The teenagers dig a hole and bury Mr. Griffin.

In the aftermath of Mr. Griffin’s disappearance, Susan and Dave experience deep guilt, but Mark convinces them all to believe that they didn’t do anything wrong. Cathy Griffin, Mr. Griffin’s wife, goes to the police. A former student of Griffin’s (and Mark’s ex-girlfriend) finds Mr. Griffin’s grave.

Dave stole Mr. Griffin’s college ring before burying him because Mr. Griffin went to the same college as Dave’s father, who walked out on Dave’s family. Dave’s elderly and ailing grandmother is convinced that Dave has secretly been seeing his father again, and she steals the ring Dave stole from Mr. Griffin, believing it to be her son’s ring. Mark kills Dave’s grandmother for the ring.

Susan decides she wants to turn them all into the police. Mark ties her up and sets her house on fire, revealing that he killed his father by burning down their house. Cathy and a detective arrive just in time to save Susan.