Using the unique medium of graphic novel, Derf Backderf recounts his high-school years with a young Jeffery Dahmer (yes, the serial killer). Backderf illustrates Dahmer’s anti-social and alcoholic tendencies, as well as his extremely troubled home life. Dahmer is portrayed as a tragic figure, one ignored by adults who could help him, and Backderf speculates that he unsuccessfully attempted to stop his homicidal urges. However, whatever sympathy Backderf has for Dahmer evaporates when the serial killer emerges – ultimately Dahmer is “a coward” (221).
This read is seriously, seriously creepy. The fact that Backderf uses graphic novel as his medium — giving visual to Dahmer — makes it all the more chilling. Dahmer seems to jump off the page and sit right beside you. Of course, Backderf does a lot of speculating; he couldn’t possibly know the specifics of what Dahmer really did as a teenager. But his imaginings don’t take away from his memoir — they are entirely believable and add to the richness of the story. It’s almost impossible to realize that there was a point when Dahmer was just a kid, before he became a killer. Backderf, with this high-school memoir, reminds readers of the humanity of Dahmer, making his ultimate descent into madness all the more horrific. At one point, Dahmer was just another high school kid trying to cope with a bad home life; a kid who felt he didn’t belong. Of course, once he started hurting people, all empathy for Dahmer vanishes, turning to disgust and terror. In all honesty, this one had me up nights.
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