My Friend Dahmer

9 08 2012

We live in a messed up world.  People go see the new Batman movie and get shot by a lunatic playing Joker.  A group of peaceful folks in Wisconsin got to their place of worship and are killed by a nut.  A woman in my town was pulled over last week by a person she thought was a cop – it wasn’t, and the man pretending to be a police officer dragged her into a cornfield and assaulted her.

TV shows, movies, and books are often an escape from the real world.  Sometimes, however, they offer some insight into what’s going on out there.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is of those insightful ones.

This book is a graphic novel about Jeffery Dahmer.  For those of you don’t know who that is, he’s one of the crazy people.  He was a serial killer in the 1980s and early ’90s who killed 17 people.

I’m usually not a fan of books that tell the story of horrible people like Dahmer, but this one is different.  It’s not about his crimes.  It’s about his adolescence – the years that turned him into the monster he became.

Derf Backderf, the author and illustrator, went to junior high and high school with Dahmer, so he has a unique insight into how the awkward, strange young man devolved into one of the world’s worst killers.  This book follows Backderf’s group of friends, which Dahmer was loosely associated with, from middle school until just after high school graduation.

The theme of the book, as Backderf looks back at Dahmer’s anti-social behavior and creepiness with 20/20 hindsight, is “where were the adults?”  Knowing what Dahmer would become, you read this book wondering how his parents, the neighbors, the teachers, or the principal never saw the writing on the wall, never realized that this kid needed help, never knew that he was a ticking time bomb.

It’s hard to call this book good or great or awesome, even though the art and writing are incredible – it’s just not that type of book, this one made me feel a little sick to my stomach the entire time I read it – a feeling I haven’t had since I visited a Nazi Concentration Camp in Germany back in 2007.  It is, however, an important book.  It’s a book about missing the signs, not hearing the cries for help, and not noticing when someone falls though the cracks.  What Dahmer did was awful.  He’s not a sympathetic figure, but what he did was preventable if someone would have just seen the signs.

Maybe we can say the same thing for Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and all the other horrific tragedies.  Maybe we could have stopped it if only we were paying attention.

This book, in my opinion, is one that all parents, teachers, principals, school counselors, and middle/high school students should read.  Not because it’s great, but because it’s important.

I’m trying to finish 90 books in 90 days this summer break.  My Friend Dahmer was #54.




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