April 15, 2011

Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Jeannie’s Review of The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
DUFF: abv. for Designated Ugly Fat Friend; Term men use to describe a fatter, less attractive friend, a woman brings with her to a party or social gathering to make herself look better by comparison. In some cases the more attractive woman will not "put out" for any male, unless one of his friends "takes one for the team" and "hits" the Duff. -- from UrbanDictionary.com
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.

Bianca never considered herself pretty or desirable and frankly, she never really cared to be. She was fine being the quirky third of her trio of friends. Playing third best to beautiful statuesque Casey or to lovely sweet Jessica never bothered her. At least not until Wesley Rush told her she was the DUFF of the group. It just made sense, right? Why else would two pretty popular girls want to hang out with her all the time if not to make themselves seem more desirable by comparison? Never mind that Casey and Jessica has been with her thick and thin since middle school. Shaken by how Wesley’s assertion of her place in the group has affected her, especially since she has made not secret of how much she despises Wesley and his manwhore ways, she sets out on a one-woman hate campaign aimed at the gorgeous charming Wesley.

Who hasn’t felt like the ugly duckling in our group of friends at one time or another? I know I have and even now at my age, married and a mother, I still feel not quite adequate around some of my fun, single, beautiful, young girlfriends. We can all relate to Bianca and her inner turmoil because we’ve all felt that sense of not belonging at some time in our lives. Bianca is also dealing with some demons at home; the break up of her parents marriage and her general isolation from family and friends. This oddly sends her into the arms of Wesley where they strike a deal best described as “enemies with benefits.” Her time with Wesley is both an escape and a temporary patch on her pain and she slowly withdraws from her friends and family. Wesley was a safe escape because he doesn’t care about who he sleeps with only that he gets into someone’s panties and it might as well be Bianca’s, right? Soon enough, Bianca starts to learn more about Wesley and how broken he is too.

So... I have a few issues with this book. First, it’s classified as a Young Adult novel but it has a lot of very very adult situations. These kids have sex. A LOT of sex. And they swear a lot. A LOT. And I generally don’t have a problem with either one of these things except a YA novel is classified as reading for the age group 12 -17 years of age. I don’t know about you but I would NOT want my 12 year old to read this book! Ask anyone who knows me, I’m no prude, not by a long shot and I’m no fan of the “fade to black” when the characters are in a loving relationship but these two go at it in a very raw and overtly promiscuous fashion. Yes, they are on the cusp of adulthood (both are 17 going on 18) but if the target audience is 12-17 year olds, this book needs to come with a disclaimer. *gets off soap box* My second issue with this book is the casual manner certain serious issues are addressed. Alcoholism, child abuse and neglect, and you already know about all the sex. Here’s where I’m puzzled, the book deals with adult themes but treats them with a casualness that doesn’t fit the situation. Bianca’s dad’s drinking is “fixed” in a matter of days, they never address the abuse situation at all and although condom use is addressed (again, casually) they never talk about the real fears of sex: unwanted pregnancy and STDs. 

Stop right here. Who am I?! Why am I picking this book apart like this? It’s not that I didn’t like this book because I did, I even swooned a little towards the end. So what’s my beef? I think mostly because it shows a highly fantasized high school world created by the author to address serious issues that most teens are faced with today. Honestly, the problems Bianca, Wesley and others deal with in this book are real problems that a lot of people deal with every day and to use them as plot points seem a bit like a cheap shot to me. But I remind myself that it’s a work of fiction and that the characters are here mainly to entertain, not educate. With that said, I think being a Young Adult writer is further challenged by the fact the audience expects a certain amount of responsibility in dealing with difficult topics that most adult writers are not held to. It’s even harder when a YA novel isn’t about an oppressive dystopian society or set in a paranormal for fantasy world because it’s just that much easier for young readers to truly identify with.

Kody Keplinger actually accomplished something great in this book, though. She wrote it with no apologies. She stuck to her idea and wrote a raw and visceral account of someone going through a hardship that most of us can identify with and in the end, that’s what makes this a great book. What I said up there about this not being a realistic account of some of these situations? I still mean it, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still lose yourself in the fantasy of this story. When it all boils down to it, it’s the classic story of the ugly duckling getting her beautiful feathers and transforming into a swan. But in The DUFF, the transformation is not a physical one but an emotional one. Bianca beautifies herself from the inside and even though her physical features don’t change, her heart does and you have to admit, that’s as real as it gets.




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