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Literature / I Know What You Did Last Summer

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"Last Summer" did not involve hook-handed fishermen, by the way.
If you're looking for the 1997 slasher movie loosely based on this book, see I Know What You Did Last Summer.
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Here is the original 1973 novel from Lois Duncan. The plot is incredibly different from the slasher film, with the characters' names and the Accidental Murder being the only similarities.

Julie James is a high school senior who has just finished up for the summer. Everything seems to be going well for her. She's got excellent grades in her finals and she's been accepted to Smith. Then one day she receives a note in the mail.

"I know what you did last summer."

What Julie did last summer - along with her friends Barry, Helen and Ray - was accidentally hit a little boy on a bike one night. They pitched an anonymous phone call to the paramedics and left, never turning back. And now it seems someone has found out.

The novel is largely different from the film that was adapted later on. Rather than a slasher story, this is more of a mystery drama, dealing with the characters' guilt over the incident.

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Provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Emotionally abusive variety. Barry's mother is incredibly controlling and really disapproves of his relationship with Helen - to the degree where she accuses Helen of being the one who shot him. Ray's father makes no secret of how disappointed he is that his son isn't into sports.
  • Accidental Murder: Barry is driving fast, but not enough to be reckless or speeding, and he's been drinking, but not enough to be drunk, when his car hits and kills David Gregg.
  • Beauty = Goodness: Helen is beautiful but also kind and compassionate. Her sister Elsa is overweight and described as repulsive - she's also every bit as ugly on the inside. Julie too is described as beautiful, and she's another of the more moral characters in the film.
  • Betty and Veronica: Ray is the Betty for Julie while Bud is the Veronica. Similarly Collie could be the Betty for Helen while Barry is the Veronica.
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  • Bitch Alert: Elsa in-universe for Julie. When she first met her, Helen was showing off her new prom dress. Elsa quickly informed Julie that Helen got it at goodwill. After Barry is shot, she shows up at Helen's apartment, ostensibly to offer sympathy, but in reality to torment her.
  • Bluffing the Hit-And-Run Drivers: Barry's initial reaction to the note is to assume this. He points out that everyone probably did something last summer that they aren't exactly proud of, and the note writer likely sent this to Julie without knowing about the accident. He tries to invoke this when talking to Collie several days later—the latter has called him and is demanding money in exchange for not showing the police a photo of the accident—but instead ends up confirming his guilt.
  • Brainless Beauty: Helen veers close to this, though she's more naive than actually stupid. Notably averted with Julie who, since the accident, buckled down to improve her schoolwork. When the story starts, she's been accepted to Smith.
  • Broken Bird: After David Gregg was killed in the accident, his mother couldn't take it and ended up in an asylum.
  • But Not Too White: Inverted. Helen worries about staying out in the sun too long in case she shows noticeable burns at work.
  • The Cheerleader: Julie was previously a cheerleader. After the accident she quit the squad and focused on her school work. Her cheerleading uniform is also a plot point.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When talking about the little boy's funeral, Julie mentions "I sent flowers". The very thing that ended up giving the culprit a lead.
    • Ray sees yellow paint on Collie's hands when he runs into him. He later recalls that the Gregg's house was painted the same color and deduces that he's David Gregg's brother
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Bud, Julie's new boyfriend. Also Collie, Helen's friend. The brother of David Gregg.
  • Death of a Child: The victim in this novel is a little boy.
  • Dramatic Irony: Julie's mother and her "feelings". She thinks of one night where she had one of her feelings but nothing happened. The reader is informed that was the night of the accident. Also, Collie is apparently angriest at Julie, feeling that she "made a joke of it by sending the flowers", when in fact, out of all of them, she was the one most shaken and remorseful
  • Everybody Lives: Not that Bud/Collie didn't try though, it's only circumstances that keep him from killing anyone. In fact he actually came dangerously close to offing Julie if not for Ray's Big Damn Hero moment.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The kids all suspect each other of sending the note.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: After a year of working on the boats, Ray now has a beard and looks more mature as a result.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • What Collie thinks he's doled out to Barry when he learns that the shot merely left him paralyzed rather than killing him. "For a guy like Barry, life in a wheelchair might be worse than no life at all"
    • Ray's suspicion about what Collie was planning to do to him. When Julie points out that Collie never tried to do anything to Ray, he says, "He did. Tonight," then goes on to explain that life without Julie would have been the worst fate imaginable.
  • Fight Unscene: Julie passes out just as Collie attacks. When she regains consciousness, Ray has come to her rescue and Collie is being taken away by police.
  • First Guy Wins: Well when the second guy was planning to kill you anyway...
  • Free-Range Children: The late David Gregg's sister Megan is left alone to fend for herself since her mother has been committed to an asylum over her grief and her father moved there to help her.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Elsa is the smart sister - as she has to work hard for everything. Helen is the pretty sister - who gets things handed to her because of her beauty.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Elsa is jealous of her sister's beauty and how easily things have come to her. Helen seems to inspire jealousy among a gang of school teachers that live in her apartment complex.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Helen has lovely honey blonde hair and is kind and gracious to everyone. She's also quite naive to Barry's faults.
  • He Is All Grown Up: Only a year's difference but Barry has this reaction when he sees Ray again. The narration remarks that Ray's face is now "a man's face".
  • Heel Realization: Literally. After Barry is able to move his foot, he says "I've done a terrible thing" and asks for the phone so that he can make a call. The reader later learns that he called Ray to tell him the truth about the shooting, warn him that he and the girls were in danger, and declare that he is releasing them from the pact.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Red-haired Julie is courted by two boys. She's even referred to as a "hot redhead".
  • How We Got Here: The novel begins the day Julie receives the eponymous note.
  • Hypocrite: Barry. See My Girl Is Not a Slut.
  • It's All About Me: Barry has a way of making it so.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Subverted. Julie gets accepted to Smith University and she's still very proud, as are her teachers, mother and boyfriend. It's implied that she was something of a slacker before she worked hard to improve her schoolwork, so an Ivy would probably be a bit out of reach for her. However, Smith is one of the Seven Sisters colleges (aka, the Ivy League for women) and a prestigious university in its own right.
  • Jerkass:
    • Barry From the minute the accident happens, his chief thought is getting away from the scene and covering up their role, fretting only about how much trouble he'll get into, as he was the one driving. When Julie gets the note, he dismisses her and Helen's concern—it's pretty obvious he's the only one of the group who doesn't have any remorse over what happened. When he's shot, he not only flat-out lies about why, he lets Helen be blamed for it, all to cover his own ass. Plus, he's been stringing Helen along, not only having no intention of making a serious commitment to her, but is cheating on her left and right—yet flips out upon hearing that a male friend accompanied her to the hospital and is ready to dump her instantly.
    • Also Elsa, Helen's sister. So jealous of her that she's downright happy that Barry got shot, "This will show Helen that she can't have everything."
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Elsa is spiteful towards her sister, but she makes some valid points that an unbiased person can agree with. This includes the obvious red flags about Helen's relationship with Barry, that she went through life coasting on mostly her looks, and how their parents spoiled Helen rotten. All this accumulates to the assertion that Helen is an extremely selfish person, a point which even their own parents agree with her on.
    • Collie himself calls Helen out on the fact that she's self-centered, pointing out that she knows nothing about him because ever since they met, they've only talked about her. It's a little undercut by the fact that he's the guy who's been stalking the group, but he's right.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Helen has this reaction to one of her own puns, remarking she doesn't normally use them but this one was too easy to ignore. Specifically the joke is referring to Collie as "well trained".
  • The Makeover: Helen gave herself one while in high school. She stopped eating junk food to get her body down to a slimmer figure and used some rinses to really bring out the blonde in her hair.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Inverted. Helen is the middle child in her family, sandwiched between a bitter older sister and siblings who are still children. She is a successful weather girl, while Elsa has to work hard in their family's store.
  • My Beloved Smother: Barry's mother. When he gets shot, he muses that his mother probably deep down loves that she'll have him under her control as he recovers.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Barry is stringing Helen along into thinking they're exclusive yet he is seeing other girls on the side. When he hears that Helen came to the hospital with another guy, he's furious and vows to dump her immediately.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Ray and Julie visit David Gregg's family, she states, "We didn't just kill a little boy, we wrecked a whole family!", noting that the boy's mother has been institutionalized, leaving his sister to fend for herself as her father is staying close to her.
  • Never My Fault: Helen has this moment at one point of the story, blaming the boy for walking home at night rather than admit any responsibility for the accident.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Julie sending flowers to David Gregg's funeral tips off the culprit, essentially resulting in the events of the book.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Collie taunting Ray about how he intends to steal Julie from him unnerves him. He keeps thinking about it—and recalls that the paint on Collie's hands matched that at the Gregg house, meaning that Collie is the one who's been stalking the group
  • No Escape but Down: Helen barricades herself in the bathroom when Collie attacks her, then breaks the window and jumps out when she realizes that he's taking off the hinges.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Barry's mother snootily tells Helen this when she calls to find out what time he's picking her up. Afterwards, Helen makes sure to call only when necessary, which is how Barry knows something is seriously wrong when she calls and insists that he come over (Julie has just shown up at her house with the note).
  • Pet the Dog: Helen remembers a moment that Elsa once suggested they move in together. She describes it as "a rare moment of sisterly friendliness".
  • Police are Useless: Averted. Julie regains consciousness to see the police taking Bud away.
  • Rags to Riches: Sort of. Helen comes from a large family with very little money. She wins a contest to become the local weather girl, which means she's able to rent a nice apartment in town.
  • Red Herring: A few, though the biggest one would have to be Collie and Bud since they're the same person.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Bud is a returning soldier from Vietnam and carries the scars of it. Julie's mother is anxious about her dating him for this reason.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Because she's beautiful, Helen is hated by many of the other female characters for this reason. Barry's mother views her as a manipulative Gold Digger, her own sister Elsa is jealous of everything her beauty gets her and a gang of school teachers in her apartment complex are jealous that the boys all love her.
  • Title Drop: When Julie opens the note she received in the mail, to her horror, it reads:
    "I know what you did last summer."
  • Twist Ending: Bud and Collie are the same person, and he is the brother of the murdered David Gregg.
  • WHAM Line: From Julie's mind "This is the same old Bud Wilson. The same old Collingsworth Wilson"
  • Wham Shot: Helen returns to her apartment after being at the pool. . . and stares in shock at the picture of a little boy riding a bicycle that has been taped to her door.
  • You Just Told Me: Collie believed that he'd found the people responsible for the accident, but he wasn't absolutely sure until he saw Julie's reaction to the note. Similarly, while he strongly suspects that Barry was the one driving, he doesn't know for certain until Barry takes the bait offered—when Collie calls him and claims to have a picture of the accident, Barry blurts out, "You can't take pictures at night", thus confirming his part in the tragedy.
  • You Killed My Father: You killed my brother more like it.
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