Bianca Piper has always basked in her camaraderie with Casey and Jessica, her gorgeous (and blonde) friends at Hamilton High. Maybe she’s a little on the larger side than they are, sure, and her hair doesn’t have that same sleek, flowing quality. Perhaps she’s a little bitter, a little jaded — but it’s not like she doesn’t have a reason to be, okay? Her mom is, like, not around. And her dad has tons of issues of his own. And if she finds solace in folding and re-folding clothes at the foot of her bed and indulging in a little daydreaming about Toby Tucker, a cute classmate, who’s to judge her?
Well, Wesley Rush, for one. Wesley — all womanizing, skeezy charm and disarming good looks. Curly dark hair; awesome body. Wanted by half the female population in Hamilton and already enjoyed by the other. Wesley . . . who informs Bianca — unprovoked, unsolicited — that in her group of friends? She’s the DUFF.
The designated ugly fat friend.
If life was coasting along for our narrator up until that point, Bianca’s world suddenly comes crashing down. Issues with self-esteem bubble up and pop, forcing an unstoppable stream of venom in Wesley’s direction. Because she hates him, you guys. Like, really, really hates him. Despises him. Thinks he is the worst.
Except, you know, not so much.
Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF is a novel about a high school student that was . . . well, written by a high school student. And you know what? It reads that way. This is both good — mostly realistic dialogue; somewhat believable teen characters — and bad. Because I felt like I was reading the diary of . . . well, a teenager. Of myself. And in the parts that were actually tender, there was truth there.
After all sorts of off-handed comments on Twitter, I’m going to try and keep my snark here to a minimum. I didn’t hate this book and I sincerely don’t want to be a hater, but I’m not sure I understand the hype surrounding this title. Though entertaining, The DUFF lacked a little something I like to call nuance. Something for readers to glean between the lines, if you know what I mean. Puzzles for me to figure out. Behavior for me to decipher. Clues as to the bigger picture — a picture I didn’t want to the author to spell out for me in pain-staking detail.
As Bianca and Wesley’s “relationship” heats up — and that’s not a spoiler, friends, promise — I would have loved to actually sit down and try to figure out why our narrator was sleeping with someone she claims to loathe. Not all sexual encounters are motivated by love — I can respect that. But the sound of his voice makes her sick, Bianca says. She can’t stand to look at him. He makes her crazy. He’s disgusting.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
And Bianca tells us exactly what she’s doing while she’s doing it. She’s upset about her parents and the shaky status of their relationship. She’s lonely. She’s heartbroken following some break-up from years ago that’s, um, never really explored. She’s still smarting from Wesley’s “DUFF” comment.
And I would have enjoyed the novel so much more if Keplinger had let me reach just one of those conclusions myself.
Many readers have been concerned about the sexual content and language in this book. I understand the cussing issue — four-letter words do tend to fly in The DUFF, but I didn’t think they were placed just for shock value. Teens curse. It didn’t offend me, but if a well-placed F word isn’t your bag? Yes, this might be a problem here.
But as for the sex? Well . . . I’d say that’s a problem, too. The message running through Keplinger’s novel — a message that Bianca says herself on multiple occasions — is that she sleeps with Wesley in order to lose herself for just a few moments. To forget her worries, to stop thinking about her home life. To feel good and empowered. She’s using him, she asserts.
I’m not going to hop up on my soap box, friends, but let me say? Not a good thing to spout off to 16-year-olds, who don’t necessarily understand the physical and emotional complications of having an intimate relationship. Or an intimate relationship with someone they claim to not even enjoy being around when they are dressed. It’s dangerous. Aside from the obvious concerns about pregnancy, STDs and other health issues, that’s not healthy for your headspace. Bianca has major problems she needed to figure out while still wearing pants.
Okay, so I guess that was pretty soap-boxy. And ranty. But I had to say it.
Also? What’s with the major issue with Bianca’s dad that crops up about 200 pages into the book . . . and is quickly swept under the rug with a few hastily-added sentences about how the problem will be resolved? (Sorry for being so vague; don’t want to spoil anything.)
This isn’t a terrible novel. I read it over the course of a few days, simultaneously shaking my head and quickly turning the page. It’s an easy read, and a fast read — and Bianca is, for the most part, a likable character. I didn’t find her particularly funny, witty or charming (more like angry, rude and stand-offish), but I could see where she was coming from. I empathized with her. And while her “banter” with Wesley often seemed forced and weird, I still found Wesley to be a realistic teen guy.
And the overarching message of The DUFF — again, spelled out and completely in your face — is that at some point or other, y’all, we’re all The DUFF. If they’re genuine, friendships go beyond labels. We’re all attractive and have something meaningful to offer the world — and it’s not through anything superficial.
That message is more my speed.
Do I recommend this book? Surprisingly, yes. If you’re looking for a different narrator and a conversation starter with other book-loving friends, I think there are plenty of issues happening here to form a decent conversation. For parents of teens, though, I’d suggest giving it a read-through first. I’m definitely not Lady Censorship over here, but I don’t agree with some of the messages — intended or unintended — happening in this one.
And hey, I’ve been the DUFF. I know exactly what that feels like. I connected with the story’s message there, and I appreciated the atmosphere Keplinger was trying to create.
It just didn’t work for me.
(I should also note that I’m in the minority. Beyond garnering many positive reviews on LibraryThing and Goodreads, many friends have enjoyed it! Check out a positive review from Steph Su Reads, which prompted me to buy the book myself. And one from Persnickety Snark, which corroborated many of my feelings.)
2.5 out of 5!