I Know What You Did Last Summer Critical Essays

Lois Duncan


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

This multilayered novel deals with a number of issues. I Know What You Did Last Summer can be read purely as an exciting and suspenseful mystery story, but the issues of peer pressure, going along with others instead of acting on one’s own, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and the long-range effects of the Vietnam War on those who were involved are central to the work as a whole. Loyalty and inaction also play a part. Which is more important, loyalty to friends or to oneself? What are the consequences of inaction?

All four teenagers involved find that a price must be paid for keeping silent about the crime, as do others whose lives are also altered by the accident. The four acted irresponsibly by leaving the scene of the accident, and each has dealt with it in his or her own way. Ray, consumed with guilt, leaves town for a year. Julie, also consumed with guilt, has chosen to erase the incident from her mind. Barry has tried to rationalize his behavior, and Helen agrees to anything in order to keep her dream of marrying Barry alive. None of them is willing to break the self-imposed code of silence. Although the accident was unintentional, the selfishness of Barry and Helen has led all four into lives of guilt and deceit. In addition, the sense of responsibility felt by the boy’s mother for the accident affects her sanity and alters the structure of her family.

The novel is set against the backdrop of American family and...

(The entire section is 518 words.)