Author: Kody Keplinger
Date of Publication: September 2010
Length: 288 pages
From Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face. But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.
Ok, so I’m feeling very conflicted about this review – and it’s been the most difficult one I’d had to write for a while. Before reading The Duff, I had heard a lot of things. A lot of really positive, raving reviews. Then I read it – and I didn’t love it. I wanted to! I really did – and I feel like maybe if I hadn’t heard so much about it pre-publication and instead went into it knowing nothing, maybe I would have gotten more out of it, but it just wasn’t what I hoped it would be I guess. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts about The Duff:
- Firstly, Bianca - Bianca had a lot of the traits I usually love in YA girls – she’s snarky and cynical and is also the mother-hen of her friendship group (which I can relate to). Bianca is also intelligent and a fiarly direct person. So where did she lose me? Well, sometimes I felt like she was just so angry, to the point it started to alienate me as a reader a little (maybe because generally I am not a particularly aggressive person?). I also would have liked her to be more honest (with herself and with others around her) and to stand up for herself (especially in regard to Wesley referring to Bianca as Duff/Duffy/any variation of that) when it counted.
- I also struggled to sympathise or even like Wesley Rush. Whilst he certainly has a Chuck Bass-ish arrogant charm, he also unfortunately tended to fall into a bit of poor-little-rich-boy cliché for me, and I kind of kept expecting something more from him.
- What I really liked is the fact that Keplinger writes openly about teenage sexuality. Instead of an awkward-first-time story or a heavy, foreboding, don’t-do-it scene clad with a stern moral message, Keplinger writes about sexual experiences as hormone-driven and exciting, and writes about sexual pleasure from a female protagonist’s point of view (something I haven’t read much of in contemporary YA).
- I have heard the term ‘the Duff’ before reading this novel (designated ugly fat friend for those of you unfamiliar with it). I really, really dislike this expression and even though Keplinger explores what it means to be a Duff (and eventually there seems to be an ownership of the term – hard to explain, but I felt like there was a bit of ‘we are all the duff’ joke at the end) but I kind of wish that there had been more of an emphasis on the idea that this way of thinking and talking about young women is quite simply not okay (just like the classifying girls as ‘grenade’ or a ‘hippo’ on Jersey Shore. This is not funny – it’s so unbelievably offensive!).
- I also have a bit of a random theory about this book– in some ways, The Duff reminds me a lit of Pretty in Pink, but set in 2010 with a more voluptuous heroine, more sex and no (awful) pink prom dress (I’m sorry, the prom dress in Pretty in Pink disappoints me every single time I watch it. Ugh).
The Duff is an interesting read which touches upon a number of important issues, such as teen sexuality, relationships, alcoholism and body image. Keplinger’s writing is direct, honest and easy to read (even though I was having trouble relating to the characters, I was certainly compelled to keep reading) and I commend her for creating characters who speak their mind and don’t necessarily fit into a traditional YA mould, and who can be confronting and challenge the reader’s comfort zone. I do think that because of all the hype and publicity prior to the novel’s release last year, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that it didn’t live up to my own high expectations. Still, if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.Thanks to Good Golly Miss Holly for hosting The Duff ARC tour, which allowed me to read this book.