I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

51r+aANH+dLNow I’m going to admit that I’ve never watched the 1997 slasher film adaptation of this novel. I’m too much of a scaredy cat to ever subject myself to watching any sort of horror film that is likely to have jump scares and unnecessary gore. However, I am an avid fan of horror, thriller, and suspense novels, so when I saw a copy of this book for $0.50 at my local Friends of the Library bookstore, I jumped at the chance to pick it up.

Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I only knew that this novel had spawned a cult classic that has helped to shape and define the slasher film genre to this day. But as it turns out, the film probably strayed far from the book’s plot, as I didn’t find myself gripped by fear or on the edge of my seat while reading this novel. There’s no gore nor hook-handed killer on the loose whatsoever as the film cover of this book may suggest. To be completely honest, this book read more like a Nancy Drew mystery to me and I would probably categorize it as more of a mystery novel and less as a horror or thriller novel. Now don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m comparing it to Nancy Drew does not mean I hated this book in the least. Truthfully speaking, I enjoyed the plot and, in particular, the ending and resolution of the novel. I feel that Duncan is an apt writer and her descriptive imagery and ability to develop the plot and her characters sets her apart from Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series. (Also I like the Nancy Drew mystery series, so there’s that). I was captivated by this book in a way that had me wishing more popular ’90s teen slasher films had originated as novels. Let’s be real, how cool would it be to read Halloween or Scream as a book?

This book was published in 1973, and while it definitely read very dated, I sort of enjoyed that about it. The dialogue in particular emphasized that dated feel and while that may be something that fans of the film may be bothered by, I found it rather endearing. It felt like such a time capsule and I had a fun time imagining these characters in a 1970s setting similar to the Halloween slasher film. But what I didn’t like about the fact that this book is dated were the views on gender and the strongly structured gender roles placed upon the characters. The idea that women are much more willing than men to settle down, start a family, and run a household was tiring to read about and often times I felt that women were reduced to their appearances. There are several moments in the book that insinuated women didn’t and wouldn’t know anything about more “masculine” interests such as fixing cars. There was also casual objectification of women throughout the book that really rubbed me the wrong way. While none of it was necessarily vulgar, it was still uncomfortable to read through. There constantly felt like an underlying theme of “this is how men and women should act and be” put in place throughout the book and it did mar my enjoyment of the novel.

I did find this book interesting in the way characters developed over time. In fact, I was quite annoyed with the way that the characters were portrayed in the beginning and how Duncan seemed to equate beauty with goodness and success & ugliness with evil heartedness and jealousy. However, as the plot moves forward, you begin to gain a better understanding of the characters and why they act the way they do. You begin to see the characters more clearly for who they are and notice both their good and bad traits. While a majority of the characters are unlikeable, you are able to empathize with them simply because there is that extra depth to their characters. Their imperfections make them realistic, and therefore, relatable. I was surprised at how Duncan was able to turn these characters around and elaborate so fully on each one of them within the allotted 200 pages while also providing a compelling plot.

Lastly, I want to say there was a part of this book that really surprised me in a good way. After all the stereotypical portrayals of gender and the much eye-rolling I did throughout, it was definitely a breath of fresh air to read a positive discussion regarding being disabled. I really enjoyed how it was argued by one of the characters that those who are disabled can be just as capable and able of leading fulfilling and successful lives as able-bodied people are. I’m not sure if this was due to the this book being written during the Vietnam war, but the inclusion of those statements made me really happy. Any sort of positive representation for marginalized individuals within literature is something I appreciate and I only wish that Duncan had done the same regarding the female gender.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book as it was a fairly quick read that kept me intrigued despite lack of terror and suspense. In addition to the social aspects discussed above, I also found a few aspects of the book silly and a bit over the top. For instance, one of the main characters had purple eyes and another main character’s mom had premonitory feelings. Do either of those things exist in real life? But for a fun YA novel that was written in the 1970s, I thought it was pretty entertaining. If you’re looking for an easy albeit somewhat cheesy read, I think this would definitely be a pleaser!


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