Review: The DUFF
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 “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that 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.–From Amazon
Warning: This review contains some spoilers.
The DUFF, which stands for the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, is a compulsively readable debut novel by 18-year-old author Kody Keplinger. Keplinger’s age works to her advantage. Her writing is fresh and authentic, and she has a rich understanding of what high school life is like since she lived it not all that long ago.
Reading this novel required me to separate my feelings for the characters from my feelings for the book more than usual. In general, I can enjoy unlikable protagonists without any difficulty as long as they are interesting, but some of Bianca’s behavior in this novel is so repulsive and reprehensible that I struggled at times with my feelings for the book. I was disgusted by Bianca’s escapist sexual practices, and I had a hard time ever feeling warm and fuzzy about Wesley, even if he does have tortured family relationships. In the typical good guy vs. bad guy love triangle, I wouldn’t mind seeing the good guy win out a little more often. I was also a bit disturbed by how easily Bianca’s father was forgiven after a drunken incident in which he was verbally and physically abusive; I understand that such things don’t always have serious repercussions in reality, but I would have liked to see some tougher consequences. Ultimately, though, I decided that if the book provoked such strong emotions from me, it must have succeeded.
The only other qualm I had with this book was that it got a bit moralistic at the end. When discussing her inspiration for the book, Keplinger said, “I always felt like the ‘ugly girl’ in high school, so when I was introduced to the word during my senior year, I knew I was the Duff. The idea of writing a book with DUFF as the title started as a joke, but when I realized that my friends felt like Duffs, too, I knew I had to write this story.” At the end of the novel, Bianca realizes that her friends also feel like DUFFs, and that it is more a state of mind than a physical reality. The message came on a little too strong for me, and I wish that Keplinger had trusted that it would come through without explicitly stating it quite so forcefully, but I agree that it an important message for teens to receive.