TITLE: My Friend Dahmer
AUTHOR: Derf Backderf
ILLUSTRATOR: Derf Backderf
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a convicted serial killer, he was just another high school student.
This story is heavily based on Dahmer’s life as a student in high school before he became a serial killer. It does not focus on his killings but rather his school life and what must have been going on through his brain during that time.
Backderf talks about their “Dahmer Fan Club” where a group of guys laugh about Dahmer’s spasm / seizure act. This sort of stuff makes me uncomfortable because I don’t find it funny. People making fun of other people for their disabilities make me incredibly uncomfortable which made it hard for me to sympathize with most of these characters. However, it’s interesting to see how Dahmer’s peers didn’t think much about him.
*Queue “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots….*
On the other hand, the story shows the faults of suburban American in the 1970s. By that I mean, there was no one to worry about Dahmer or question his behavior or even ask for help. Backderf makes a really good job showing this aspect and it’s weird to see because growing up I school teachers and counselors always urged me (and my generation) to ask for help if we see something weird, especially in today’s world.
We may not get to see his serial killer days, but we do see how he struggled with his urges. What he did to stop himself or better yet, numb himself from what he was thinking. It’s not something you think about when it comes to a serial killer, but Dahmer did struggle and to an extent felt bad for what he was thinking. I think this is the most important part of Backderf’s novel. It’s not humanizing Dahmer because there is no way to justify what he’s done, but it does show a different side to him.
As much as I wished this was all made up because it would also mean Dahmer was just fiction, the story is mostly true. It’s evident that the author made his research from looking up interviews from NBC and the FBI (among others), from his own interviews with old classmates and Dahmer himself. There is extensive information about Dahmer’s early life at the end of the book.
The art style is in black and white and quite distinctive (in my opinion), but mostly it gave me a creepy vibe. I don’t know if this was from knowing Dahmer’s story or if the style was supposed to be like that. But, it was an easy read. I read it in one sitting.
All in all, I liked this book. I’m not sure I would read it again, but I would recommend it if you want to see a serial killer’s adolescence.