70s Spotlight: I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer
Lois Duncan
First published 1973

My history with this book
I read I Know What You Did Last Summer when I was around 12, but it didn’t leave as big an impression on me as Summer of Fear or Stranger with My Face.

My thoughts
I Know What You Did Last Summer is probably the best known of Lois Duncan’s books because of the hit 90s movie that was loosely based on it. The movie is teen horror, but the book is more of a psychological thriller. (The movie stars 90s teen superstars Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, and Freddie Prize Jr.)

Last summer, four teenage friends–Julie, Ray, Helen, and Barry–did a very bad thing, and they made a pact to keep it a secret. It’s almost a year later, and guilt has turned Julie, once a sparkling cheerleader, into a serious young woman. She and Ray broke up after the incident, and he left town, but now he’s back and stirring up unresolved feelings in Julie. Julie and Ray aren’t close anymore to Barry and Helen, who don’t seem to be weighed down at all by guilt.  Barry is a douchey frat boy (played in the movie by–no surprise–Ryan Philippe), who’s still dating Helen, his high school girlfriend, but is also cheating on her left and right. Helen worships Barry and is a complete doormat.

IMG_3723When Julie receives an anonymous letter that says “I know what you did last summer,” the former friends have to start dealing with each other as they try to figure out who could be threatening them.

This book was better than I remembered it being. I didn’t really remember many details about, except for the very bad thing the teens did and that someone was after them. The story was fairly suspenseful, and Duncan is good at creating a menacing sense of dread as the teens realize that someone knows what they did and wants revenge.

For me, the best part of the book is how 70s it is. Everything feels groovy. The Vietnam war is still going on, and we meet veterans who’ve recently returned. Helen, who has no apparent job qualifications other than being pretty, is the weather girl for the local news, a job she gained through winning a contest. She’s a major local celebrity, and she has an apartment in a swinging singles complex, where everyone gathers at the pool each night. It’s very “Three’s Company.”

Does it hold up?
Much better than I expected.

Would I want my kid to read it?
I’d have no objections to him reading it.

Is there any objectionable content?
There are some dated attitudes that feel very 70s, and Barry is a total sexist pig, but he’ s presented negatively.

Can you read it aloud?
No.

Availability
It’s still in print. My copy is from the 90s and the movie tie-in cover.