Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Friend Dahmer

"My Friend Dahmer" by Derf Backderf is one of the most memorable and disturbing graphic novels I've read in a long time.  This is the type of book that will make you stay up at night thinking about it.  When I was reading it I found I couldn't put it down because it was so interesting.

It is written and illustrated by someone who was a classmate of Jeff Dahmer and saw him get more and more strange and anti-social over the years.  It starts in the 7th Grade and ends when the author and his friends graduate from high school.  The author is one of a handful of people who attempted to talk to and become friends with Jeff Dahmer but even he has trouble relating to him.  The fact of the matter is that even in the 7th Grade Jeff Dahmer was "weird" for lack of a better word.  Even at that age he was doing things like collecting road kill and trying to decompose the bodies in acid.  He had no friends to speak of and a very troubled life at home.  We see how Dahmer gets more and more withdrawn as he gets older and closer to graduation.  We also learn that in high school Jeff Dahmer developed a severe dependence on alcohol and drank heavily during school.  The author's theory is that Dahmer drank to numb his senses to the evil and depraved thoughts that went through his head.

The author may have known Jeff Dahmer better than almost anyone during those high school years.  Even though the author and his friends think Dahmer is a "freak" they form the "Jeff Dahmer Fan Club" and they observe his antics and sometimes invite him into their group.  They "use" Dahmer to help them do pranks like getting Dahmer to pose in the back of all of the group and club photos for the yearbook.  The author is one of the few teens who knew Dahmer well enough to visit him at his home.  He admits he only visited him a couple of times because the visits were often weird and creepy in some way.

When you read the book you can't help but ask yourself, "how does someone cross that line from being a social outcast to a full blown serial killer?"  The author also clearly struggles with those questions as well.  Jeff Dahmer had a variety of issues.  He was an outsider.  A weirdo.  It is also revealed in the book that he figured out in high school that he was a homosexual.  Jeff Dahmer was bullied in school but he also picked on younger weaker classmates himself.  All of these are huge pressures on any teenager but there are thousands of other teenagers in the same position all across the country.  What made Dahmer snap?

What is also sort of scary is that the author and his friends could almost see it coming.  There is a scene in the book that takes place several years after high school.  The author and his friends are at a bar talking about their high school days and their old friends.  Jeff Dahmer's name comes up and they wonder what he's doing just then.  The author jokes that, "he's probably a serial killer by now", and they all laugh.  They would later be haunted by this memory.  The author asks himself if he could sense that something was seriously wrong with Dahmer why didn't he ever get help?  How could his parents be so clueless?  How could his teachers at school not notice that he was coming to school drunk every day?  By the end of the book it seems like there are more questions than answers and perhaps that is one reason why this book is so disturbing and yet so fascinating.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lawrence Anthony

I was deeply saddened to find out about the death of conservationist and author, Lawrence Anthony, earlier this month. I became aware of Anthony when I read his book Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo. This is a great story and was one of my favorite books of 2007. Aside from his work at the Baghdad zoo, Anthony headed a game reserve in South Africa and most recently has been involved in attempting to save the endangered Northern White Rhinoceros. Anthony also wrote The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild. I am looking forward to reading his new book, which will be released in July, The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World's Greatest Creatures.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Eat a Cupcake

 I don’t know about you, but I know How to Eat a Cupcake and don’t need to read a book to instruct me on how to devour this bite of heaven!  But that’s not what this book with the catchy title is actually about.  Instead, author Meg Donohue tells a tale of the many layers of friendship that may exist in a relationship.

With Annie’s mother Lucia working for Julia’s family and living on their estate, Annie and Julia were destined to have some type of relationship even though they came from two different worlds.  Whether friends or frenemies, it all depended on how the wind blew.  In their senior year in high school, the lines were drawn.  The book picks up ten years later, Lucia has passed away, Julia is engaged and Annie is working as a pastry chef in a bakery.  A chance meeting occurs between the two and leads to a business venture opening a cupcake store together. Old wounds are opened and in order to be successful Annie and Julia need to put their differences behind them and practice forgiveness if they are going to be a success.
When I picked up the book I was expecting chick lit, but it turned out to be much more than that.  The book had likable characters with the narrative going back and forth between the viewpoints of both Julia and Annie. The plot was rich and well developed.  An appealing and delicious read about friendship.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Domestic Violets

Tom Violet has a lovely wife, happy daughter, hot coworker, Pulitzer Prize-winning father, reliable job in a bad economy, his own first novel just completed…could things possible get worse?

For Tom Violet, things are complicated. His brilliant wife, looking even better for her time at the gym, wants another child, and their marriage is at a turning point. While his work writing corporate marketing material is easy, and he can infuriate his editor Darth Gregory nearly every day, Tom’s job at the death star is soul-crushing. His father is receiving more recognition than ever—even appearing on Letterman, but he’s just left another wife and has moved in with Tom. And Tom’s first novel is good, but can he get published?

If you enjoyed Jonathan Tropper (This is Where I Leave You), you’ll love Domestic Violets. It’s got family drama, self-identity issues, a little chaos, some plot twists. Fun, witty, fast-paced—it’s a terrific read.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson has written two previous graphic novels that were critic's favorites.  "Goodbye - Chunky Rice" is a children's story, "Blankets" was a teen coming of age story, and now "Habibi" is a very adult epic.  I use the term epic because "Habibi" is an epic graphic novel.  It is clearly a work that took years to make.  The story is so rich and the drawings are so detailed and fantastic.

"Habibi" is set in a Arabic desert world that blurs between ancient and modern.  At times the story seems to be from the ancient times of sultans, harems and eunichs, and at other times the story takes place in a very modern world full of pollution and technology.

It is very clear that years of work went into this graphic novel.  Craig Thompson learned how to write in Arabic and obviously also studied the Koran.  One of the interesting things about this graphic novel is that it weaves into it's tale a number of biblical stories.  Often, however, both the Judeo-Christian version of the tales are told as well as the Muslim versions.  It is fascinating to see where the stories are the same and how they are different.

This is also a very "adult" graphic novel.  The main character is a woman who is often sexually exploited.  She has a rough life.  One of the sad and ironic things about her life is that the man who perhaps is the nicest to her over the years is an older man that her father sells her to at a very young age to be his wife.  Even though she is a child he cares for her and teaches her how to read and write.  The lessons he teaches her end up being an important part of the rest of her life.

This is an epic and long graphic novel that is over 600 pages long.  Some critics have said that it is too long and the story is a bit hard to follow.  I found myself completely absorbed by the story and couldn't put it down.  Yes, it is long, but I loved every detail.  If you are looking for a graphic novel that will transport you to another world you will love Habibi.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mixing It Up

Sometimes I get into a rut where I am just reading one certain series or a certain genre.  That's what has been happening lately and I found myself getting a little bored.  I decided to mix it up a bit and read a genre I would never normally read.  I picked, of all things, horror.  For this I have to thank Becky Spratford of RA For All.  Becky knows her horror and when I saw that she had an interview coming up with the author Jonathan Maberry it piqued my interest.  So, I found myself reading Maberry's Dead of Night, a zombie thriller.  I approached the book with apprehension, sure that I would be throwing it aside after just a few chapters.  Horror of horrors, I found myself totally engrossed in the book and didn't want to put it down!

The story had a substantial plot with well developed characters.  Told from different points of views, including the zombies, the reader is aware of what the characters are thinking and feeling.  Ever wonder how a zombie feels?  Here's your chance to find out. The story bounces back and forth between several characters including a zombie, a reporter and a female police officer.  The fact that you are watching events unfold through different views really adds terror and evokes different emotional responses in the reader.

 As for the plot, it wasn't just a lot of zombies chasing after humans, though there was a lot of that, but the storyline developed as to how it all started and who was behind it.  A suspenseful read from the beginning, we are introduced to a small town in Pennsylvania.  The story starts with the corpse of serial killer Homer Gibbon being delivered to the mortuary in Stebbins, PA.  However, Homer was injected with a drug that would render him conscious in death as his body decomposed.  This was to be his punishment (besides being executed) and he was to be buried on prison grounds.  Instead, he is delivered to the mortuary and this is the start of a chain of events that release the zombies.  We see the story develop and how the government tries to contain the zombies to just the town of Stebbins.  The story flows and develops in a very natural way.

I enjoyed the book so much that I know I will continue reading some more horror.  Hopefully, other authors will give me the thrill and the scary jolts that come with reading this type of book.  Give it a try, mix up your reading a little, you may enjoy it.  If you find yourself at a loss as to what to choose, Deerfield Library's readers advisory department is always here to help you.