Book Review: "My Friend Dahmer" by Derf Backderf

Oh, yes, that Dahmer.  Did you really think there was another?  This graphic novel chronicles the author’s experience as a classmate and on/off friendship with the future serial killer.  The narrative focuses on Dahmer during those awkward junior high days through the end of high school – effectively ending around the time of his first murder which was weeks after graduation.

The author’s point in telling his story is not to create empathy for Dahmer.  Rather, he wants to show how maybe his path might have been changed had certain things been noticed.  Well, these things had been noticed – but maybe been acted on or treated more seriously.  Of course hindsight is a generous gift in this situation, but you see the point.  What if someone did something about his apparent fascination with roadkill?  What is there was an adult available for him to talk about his sexual orientation/fantasies/urges?  What if a teacher actually did something about him being drunk all the time in school – maybe tried to find out why he was drinking the way he was?  What if his parents didn’t fight, divorce, and then leave him on his own before graduation?  These are not meant to be excuses – but maybe something to think about when thinking about the weird kid in class.  That kid could need some support or even just someone to talk to.

But let’s not forget about why you’d pick this up in the first place.  Aren’t serial killers fascinating?  We have this strange desire to want to know more about them.  Here you are getting a first person account of someone who knew Dahmer as a teen (and his first murder was when he was still a teen).  He does add to his own account with stories from friends, teachers, published accounts as well as FBI records to really flesh out the narrative – because it isn’t like he was his best friend or anything…  he needed to fill in the holes and he used plenty of factual information to do so.   I’ll admit to doing a tiny bit of research on Dahmer prior to reading this, as he was arrested when I was just entering high school myself.  All I really remembered was that Dahmer was a serial killer who was particularly horrible because of cannibalism.  I now know more gruesome details about the victims than I think I wanted to, but no worries – this book does not go into that much detail and does not talk about all of his victims (just the first).

This is also presented as a well drawn graphic novel, where the illustrations really help tell the story.  And the story is interesting, folks.  It is disturbing, it can be a little gross, and it is really quite sad too… but it will grab you right from the start.
My Friend Dahmer
by Derf Backderf
Abrams ComicArts, 2012
224 pages
Source:  Library
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4 thoughts on “Book Review: "My Friend Dahmer" by Derf Backderf

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  1. My mom read true crime almost exclusively when I was growing up, so I always knew far more about serial killers than any other kid on the block. lol I definitely would like to give this one a try. It sounds totally thought-provoking.


  2. What a great review of a disturbing but fascinating book. I read this a couple of months ago, and was struck by how much research the author had done. It is an interesting blend of graphic memoir and informational text.


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