Lois Duncan is the author of numerous bestselling books for young people and adults. Her novels have won her high acclaim, and many have been chosen as ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She lives in North Carolina.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Five were missing--a terrifying ride into a nightmare!
In the beginning it's just another bus ride home from school. But the driver is a stranger . . .
The following books are also discussed in this guide:
Seventeen-year-old Sarah Zoltanne, the main character in Gallows Hill, has just moved to California from a small Missouri town. Eager to fit in at her new high school, Sarah reluctantly agrees to run a fortune-telling booth at the annual carnival. This role-playing turns terrifying when Sarah begins to have visions that predict the future. Her frightened classmates set off a chain of events that makes Sarah the object of a modern-day witch-hunt.
Killing Mr. Griffin
In all of Duncan's novels, the teenaged main characters are faced with decisions that could change the course of their lives: In Killing Mr. Griffin, five high-school students plot to kidnap their English teacher. Four teenagers in I Know What You Did Last Summer are involved in a hit-and-run accident. April, in Don't Look Behind You, moves to Florida with her family when her family is relocated under the witness protection program. When she disobeys the rules, she finds her life in grave danger. In The Third Eye, Karen's life changes when she uses her psychic powers to locate missing children. And five high-schoolers, kidnapped in Ransom, and are forced to work together to try to escape.
Invite a police officer to talk with the students about teenaged crime in their city or town. What are the most frequent crimes committed by teenagers? How do pranks lead to crimes? Many teenaged criminals are good kids who made bad decisions. Engage the class in a discussion about what they should do if they suddenly find themselves in a prank about to turn bad.
Acceptance--Sarah in Gallows Hill, Susan in Killing Mr. Griffin, and April in Don't Look Behind You, are striving to be accepted by the kids at school. Ask students to discuss how each of these characters might be considered an outsider. Each girl, in her effort to be accepted, makes a bad decision and takes part in something that is very wrong. How does the desire to be accepted affect student behavior in most schools? Ask students to discuss news events where poor judgment and the desire to be accepted ended in tragedy. Engage the class in a discussion about ways to make an outsider feel accepted.
Peer Pressure--Eric in Gallows Hill, Mark in Killing Mr.Griffin, and Barry in I Know What You Did Last Summer are masters at manipulating their peers. Ask the class to discuss how peer pressure is related to the desire to be accepted by others. How are Sarah in Gallows Hill, Susan in Killing Mr. Griffin, and Julie in I Know What You Did Last Summer victims of peer pressure? Divide the class into small groups and ask them to role-play a real-life scene where a student is pressured. Then ask the class to discuss alternative scenarios.
Revenge--Ask students to define revenge. How is accusation used as a means of revenge in Gallows Hill? Have students discuss why Mark, Betsy, and Jeff are so intent on taking revenge upon their teacher in Killing Mr. Griffin. Discuss how revenge is the driving force behind the witness protection program. How is April the victim of revenge in Don't Look Behind You? How does Bud seek revenge in I Know What You Did Last Summer? What do these books say about the human propensity for vengeance?
Responsibility--In Duncan's books teenagers make very bad decisions that lead them into a life of guilt and lies. What consequences do these teens face for their deceit? At what point do the characters in each of these novels acknowledge that they are responsible for their actions? Ask students to discuss how Karen in The Third Eye and the five teenagers in Ransom appear more responsible than the characters in Duncan's other novels.
Leadership--In Gallows Hill and Killing Mr. Griffin, there are characters who use their leadership abilities to get others to do what they want. In Killing Mr. Griffin, Mark uses his handsome looks and popularity to get Susan and the others to go along with the plan to abduct Mr. Griffin. Eric, in Gallows Hill, uses his charm to persuade Sarah to continue to tell fortunes. Ask students to list and discuss the qualities one needs to be an effective leader. How might the teenagers in Ransom define a leader? Ask the class to name the students in their school who represent good leadership (e.g., president of the student government).
Language Arts --Most of Lois Duncan's novels are told from the viewpoint of one or two protagonists, but in Ransom, Duncan shifts the point of view among the five kidnapped teenagers. How does this technique enhance the story? Ask students to select a scene from one of Duncan's other novels and rewrite it from the point of view of another character. How does this change the effect of the novel?
Ask students to stage a talk show where Sarah in Gallows Hill and Susan in Killing Mr. Griffin are featured guests. Have the class question each girl about the mistakes they made, their feelings about the boys who led them astray, and what they have learned about their experiences.
Sarah in Gallows Hill and Karen in The Third Eye have psychic abilities. Ask students to write down the reasons each girl has for denying this "third sense." How are Sarah's reasons different from Karen's reasons? Students may wish to read Lois Duncan's Psychic Connections: A Journey into the Mysterious World of Psi to learn more about psychic ability. Have students write a letter that Karen might write to Sarah offering her comfort and advice about how to handle her talent.
Social Studies --People have long been fascinated with fortune-tellers, palm readers, psychics, tarot card readers, and others who claim to have the ability to predict the future. Many people see such things as pure entertainment, as they were intended at the Halloween carnival in Gallows Hill. Ask students to research the various world cultures that still practice some type of witchcraft or supernatural beliefs.
Early in Gallows Hill, Eric says to Kyra, "Gypsies aren't occult. They're a bunch of beggars who look at the lines in people's hands and make up stories about them" (p. 10). Engage the class in a discussion about stereotypes. How do people stereotype Gypsies? Why is it so important to Eric that Sarah has a "Gypsy look"? Ask students to find information in the library or on the Internet about Gypsies. What is their origin? Chart a map that indicates the Gypsy population of the world. Gypsies are sometimes called by other names (e.g., Travelers). Ask students to indicate other names that they find for Gypsies.
In Killing Mr. Griffin, the students who participate in the abduction are motivated by the same kind of mob mentality that drove the villagers of Salem, Massachusetts, to turn upon one another during the witch trials. Using the Internet and/or print resources, ask students to research an instance of mob mentality in recent history (e.g., McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, the race riots of the 1960s, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots). Ask students to write a newspaper story about their topic.
Social Studies --Criminal justice is considered a social science, but it might also be viewed as a pure science. Send students to the library media center to research the many ways that the criminal justice system uses science to acquire evidence on a criminal.
Careers --Ask students to research the various career options in the field of criminal justice. What are the qualifications and training for the different careers? How might social workers be considered partners to those in the field of criminal justice?
Drama--Divide the class into small groups and ask them to identify a suspenseful scene in one of Lois Duncan's novels and perform it as a one-act play. Remind them that the scene should have strong dialogue. Instruct each group to write a short narrative to introduce their scene. Ask them to select appropriate music that will add to the suspense.
Vocabulary/Use of Language
The vocabulary in Lois Duncan's books is not difficult, but students may enjoy exploring words connected to psychic phenomena like karma, reincarnation, and familiar.
Teaching ideas by Edward Sullivan, Senior Project Librarian, the New York Public Library Connecting Libraries and Schools Project, New York, New York.
Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan[0-440-91864-2]
Don't Look Behind You by Lois Duncan[0-440-20729-0]
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan[0-440-91805-7]
Driver's Ed by Caroline B. Cooney[0-440-21981-7]
Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan[0-440-22725-9]
I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson[0-440-21960-4]
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan[0-440-22844-1]
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan[0-440-94515-1]
Locked in Time by Lois Duncan[0-440-94942-4]
Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan[0-440-98356-8]
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan[0-440-98324-X]
They Never Came Home by Lois Duncan[0-440-20780-0]
The Third Eye by Lois Duncan[0-440-98720-2]
The Twisted Window by Lois Duncan[0-440-20184-5]