Keplinger, Kody. The DUFF (2010). 277 Pages. Poppy. $16.99
Clever, sarcastic, cynical Bianca Piper knows she isn’t the prettiest girl; she hangs out with Casey and Jessica, a pair of tens, and simply doesn’t compare. She’s not the sort of girl who grabs anyone’s attention, so she is surprised when Wesley Rush– a cute, charming, smooth-talking playboy– starts talking to her. Her surprise turns into annoyance as soon as he explains; she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) in her group– less because she is actually ugly, and more because she’s not as cute as her friends– and being nice to her is an easy in with her friends.
Despite her fury, or perhaps because of it, Bianca kisses Wesley, and she likes it. It’s a slippery slope from there, and Bianca soon finds herself in an enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley as she seeks to avoid reality. Things spin further and further out of control, and soon Bianca finds herself overwhelmed.
This was getting old.
Once again, Casey and Jessica were making complete fools of themselves, shaking their asses like dancers in a rap video. But I guess guys eat that shit up, don’t they? I could honestly feel my IQ dropping as I wondered, for the hundredth time that night, why I’d let them drag me here again.
Bianca is the sort of character who jumps right off the page; she’s got the sort of voice that makes her seem a lot more real than most. She’s a sort of every-girl; average looks, a little cynical, a little witty, fairly smart, and a little lost. She’s not quite sure, sometimes, but that’s part of her charm. She’s incredibly relatable, and you’re on her side, even when you know she’s in the wrong.
I wanted Bianca to triumph, even as she descended into self-destructive madness, because I could relate to her on so many levels. I was the girl who lost herself in her boyfriend, who made her best friends jealous because she dropped off the radar. I was the girl who was hiding from reality, who struggled with issues her friends never knew about, who opened up to a boy before her best friend. I was cranky, crappy, cynical, optimistic, hopeful, and determined to just get through it, even when I knew I was escaping. When I first started reading Bianca’s story, I didn’t know quite how much I would like her.
Bianca is, as I said, self-destructive. Her story involves a lot of “sensitive” subjects; teen drinking, teen sex, domestic violence, and alcoholism, to name a few. It’s not for younger teens, or those who want a perfectly happy book. There are moments which I feel could have been handled better; for example, Bianca’s Father’s struggle with alcoholism. It (and the ensuing issues) were too easily dismissed, and it made it feel a little less genuine than the rest of the novel. The issue of teen sex is a difficult one; teens have sex. It happens. There are consequences, and they are very real, and they are not really faced here.**
Despite my gripes, I feel like this was a solid, entertaining, well-written debut novel which I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest to anyone. Needless to say, I loved this book, and will have to go buy my own copy.* It scores a full 5/5.
* I got it from the library, having put it on my hold list and waited oh-so-patiently for it to be available after reading the Lit-Snit Review of it.
** I realize there is a fine line between addressing an issue and preaching about one, and the point of this book was not to preach, but Bianca’s behavior (as well as that of some other girls, and a few boys) was dangerous, and none of them seemed to think of the consequences. All that bed-hobbing Wesley did could easily have given him many STDs which any of his partners would risk, and yet the issue never really comes up. Even an acknowledgment, if not a full discussion of, the issues would have been good.