You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer—the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper—seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, “Jeff” was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche—a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget. – Goodreads
I’m not a big graphic novel person. It’s another situation where it’s more my fault than the graphic novels fault. Promise! That being said, I picked up My Friend Dahmer because it recently won the Alex Award and I try to read ALL THE BOOKS! on YASLA’s lists. I have always had an interest in Jeffrey Dahmer. I know, I know you’re looking at me like “say what!?” but give me a chance to explain! I’m from Milwaukee, where Dahmer was caught. The whole city has an interest in him.
My Friend Dahmer reaffirmed my interest in him and the situation. Backderf makes you feel for Dahmer but at the same time makes you see that Dahmer, in his own way was always doomed. Dahmer is uncomfortable and often hard to read, but I found it important to get through the book (and I did. Extremely quickly.) This book is not told from Dahmer’s point of view, but from Backderf’s and how looking back there were hints, but not Backderf’s first choice for a serial killer in his graduating class.
The people in this graphic novel are teenage boys. Teenage boys who do stupid, idiotic things, that Backderf apologizes for because looking back he realizes he was an asshole. Backderf explains what made Dahmer essentially Dahmer, from at least his point of view. And Backderf even states, “you may feel for Dahmer, but as soon as he killed those people. Feeling bad for him stops.” And I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I felt for Dahmer throughout this book because man, did he have a shity ass home life, but you know what, a lot of people do AND THEY DON’T KILL PEOPLE.
I am glad this won the Alex Award, not only because I think it deserves it, but because it helped me to give this graphic novel a chance. I also passed it along to my mother before I returned it to the library. My mother, a very reluctant reader, devoured this book. It was awesome to witness.