My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

9781419702167_s3Information: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf was published in 2012 by Harry N. Abrams. ISBN: 1419702173

Plot Summary: My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel that tells the high school life of Jeffrey Dahmer before he became a serial killer, from the point of view of someone who went to school with him. Derf recalls his few memories of Dahmer and what he learned of him after high school to piece together how someone he knew could have become a serial killer. Derf describes memories of family, friends, teachers, and the townspeople he remembers having contact with Dahmer. He examines how he was treated and how Dahmer treated others, trying to figure out if there were really any warning signs for Dahmer’s future behavior.

Critical Evaluation: My Friend Dahmer is a black and white graphic novel that visualizes the few memories Derf had with Jeffrey Dahmer. Surprisingly, the dark cartoon like picture help ease the harsh topic, but does not take away from the seriousness of the subject. Instead Derf explores the psychological aspects of what makes kids become the adults that they are.

Reader’s Annotation: My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel where Derf recalls his few memories with Jeffrey Dahmer, trying to piece together how someone could become a serial killer.

Author’s Information: The writer-artist, who works out of an unheated, attic studio in his Cleveland home, grew up in a rural, small town in Ohio, an experience that was the inspiration for his graphic novels TRASHED, PUNK ROCK & TRAILER PARKS and the international bestseller, MY FRIEND DAHMER.

An art school dropout, Derf worked on a garbage truck before deciding to give cartooning a try. He attended Ohio State University on a journalism scholarship, where he drew political cartoons for the school paper for three years and caused such controversy school officials put a 1-year limit on all future cartoonists. After graduation, he landed a similar position on a paper in South Florida but was fired after two years for, as the editor put it, “general tastelessness.” He moved to Cleveland and THE CITY comic strip debuted in the now-defunct Cleveland Edition in 1990. A year later, he began selling it to other alternative papers. The strip appeared in over 140 publications during it’s 20-plus years, including The Village Voice, Chicago Reader and The Los Angeles Reader. THE CITY was retired in 2013 so Derf could concentrate on books (About Derf).

Genre: Nonfiction, Graphic Novel

Curriculum Ties: (Florida State Curriculum Standards): Understanding Key Literary Ideas

Book Talk Ideas:

  • Derf wonders if there was anything he could have done to help Dahmer. Was there? Or was Dahmer’s fate unpreventable?
  • Was there anyone responsible for Dahmer’s outcome? Or is everyone just responsible for themselves?

Reading Level/ Age Interest: Grades 9-12 and Ages 15-18

Challenge Issues: Violence, Language, Homosexuality

Challenge Defense File:

Selection Policy

The System will select and maintain a comprehensive collection of print, non-print, audio visual and electronically accessed materials to meet the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the citizens of Sarasota County. The System will strive to offer wide ranging collections that meet the various ages, interests, educational levels, and cultural backgrounds of all members of the community and will provide collections through which an individual may explore all points of view and issues of interest. In making selections, the library staff will do so based upon principle rather than personal opinion, reason rather than prejudice, and judgment rather than censorship. Furthermore, staff will be responsive to public demand for materials of contemporary significance and interest, while balancing this with the need to collect and preserve materials of permanent value. While library staff makes material selections based upon the tenet of one system, one collection, selectors recognize the distinct characteristics and needs of the populace that each library services. Community profiles are used to guide selectors in efforts to develop special collections and to meet the unique patron needs within each library.

The ultimate responsibility for selection materials rests with the General Manager of Libraries and the Management Team, who in turn delegates selection responsibilities to the Collection Development Librarians (Sarasota County Policy).  


Backderf, D. (2012). My Friend Dahmer. New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams. This book is part of the collection for its discussion on bullying and isolation of high school students. It is a valuable lesson to learn that not everything is a joke and that everyone deserves to have help when needed.

Other recommendations like this book include: The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, and Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap

Active Listening Skills

  • Remain calm
  • Listen thoughtfully and carefully to any arguments for the collection
  • Engage in a discussion that considers every concern, even if you do not agree


  • 2013 ALA/YALSA Alex Award
  • 2014 Revelation Award at Angoulême
  • 2015 ALA/YALSA Alex Award (Excellence in Narrative Nonfiction)

Reconsideration Form


  • Reviews by Young Adults: N/A

Selection Tools:

Why I chose this book:

I chose this book for the unique way it delivers its message as a graphic novel. I think a lot of people go through traumatic things through high school and need ways of working out the memories as an adult. My Friend Dahmer is one of the best examples of how this can be done in a healthy and creative way.


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