My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

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Genre: Graphic novel/biography/true crime/fictionalization

Winner 2013 Alex Award, the ALA’s award for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults.”

My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel covering the adolescence of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  The story is written by a high school friend of Dahmer and is based on personal recollections from the author and other of Dahmer’s peers, as well as other source material such as news articles and FBI interviews of Dahmer.

This is quite an interesting book. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about Dahmer before reading, so I had to do a bit of research, and Wow. What a monster. And what I like about this book is that it makes it clear that it is not making excuses for or empathizing with Dahmer. What it attempts to do is give a picture of his troubled youth, explain his tortured mental state and the circumstances that exacerbated it, and lament that no one was able to intervene before his breaking point. It succeeds brilliantly.

This book is chilling and authentic. I could relate to, or at least understand, much of what the author had to say about youth in general and why the teens in the book behaved the way they did.

Unfortunately, I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to students, even high school students. While I’m sure there are some who could handle its subject matter, I would not feel comfortable as a teacher recommending it. The story itself does not go into any detail about Dahmer’s crimes, but it does mention his necrophiliac urges, and the end notes do go into graphic detail. At the very least, the research necessary to find out who Dahmer is before reading the book is not anything I would feel comfortable telling a teenager to read. Which is a shame, because I think the book poses some very, very necessary questions that anyone who is a teen or works with/parents teens should ask: How and why did Dahmer and his pain escape notice? What could have or should have been done, if anything?  What role did both peers and adults play in his story? In short, I highly recommend teachers read it and then use extreme discretion in passing it on.

In light of the above, I’m not posting any teaching resources.

Author’s website: http://www.derfcity.com/

Publisher’s website: http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/My_Friend_Dahmer-9781419702167.html

Backderf on Ink Studs podcast: http://www.inkstuds.org/derf-on-my-friend-dhamer/

 

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