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.
Enter Bianca: a fierce girl who's feels she's the Duff (Designated Fat Ugly Friend). Enter Wesley: the gorgeous player that has no heart or soul.
Then sit back as these two battle (and love) it out, and you've got the resulting concoction of punchy, real, and engrossing that is The Duff.
Bianca is definitely a memorable main character: she jumps out at the pages from the first, spouting clever insults and her worries about family problems. But I like my snarky main characters. I like them quite a lot. I can understand why the constant cynicism and aggression that characterizes Bianca might rub some readers the wrong way--but that's the same reaction a sarcastic seventeen-year-old would get in real life, and it only seems fitting that she'd get the same reaction out of readers. One thing's for sure: some people will love Bianca, and some people will hate her.
I mostly loved her.
One thing I can say about this book? It's a breath of fresh air. Bianca is perfectly imperfect: she's not stunningly beautiful or scarily skinny, and she's definitely not yet another recycled teenage main character that populate so many YA books today. She feels real, and her witty observations are just the sort of thing I'd like to see more in YA: her assertion that in high school, teenagers shouldn't be "in love" but rather "in like"; her ability to have a crush on someone nerdy and nice rather than a chiseled marble statue; and her doubts about her relationship with Wesley.
It's the characters and the relationships that are the backbone of this book; and Keplinger succeeds in bringing to life a whole cast that has strikingly realistic interactions with each other. Cynical Bianca has two friends that aren't flimsy stock characters; Wesley--although definitely not a love interest I'd swoon over--has depth behind his playboy exterior; a sister he cares for, and a rather touching concern for Bianca--even as he plays his part as a womanizer. It's the teens that I feel came to life and took over this story--as it should be in YA. Bianca's relationship with her Dad and Mom is shaky; but I felt that the conflict between them could've stood to have been explored at a deeper level rather than a toss-up conflict that adds reasoning to Bianca's lusty interactions with Wesley. And I'd promised I'd start doing this more often, so for those of you who are deeply offended by cursing or sex in a book, steer clear of The Duff. Personally, I'm not bothered by it, and felt that it did create a further dimension of realness to The Duff--even if Bianca made some rather stupid decisions. The point is, she learned from it. The other point is that these are real teenagers you're reading about, not just what adults think teenagers are like.
And that's why I felt that this book had so much value.
There are some things that I wish could've been a little different: there was a slight shift in writing style after the first few chapters that should've been ironed out by the time of publication, and also, the ending just didn't quite do it for me. It came together too nicely and too easily; with the blink of an eye, Bianca's problems were resolved. The ending was not in line with the rest of the ambiance of the book; nor was Bianca's final attitude towards Wesley. Things were too neat, and far too pretty for a book and main character that aren't afraid to deal with the ugly side of things.
However, I will say that I really appreciated the self-esteem issues explored in this book: I'm sure just about every girl and possibly boy has felt like The Duff at one point. And I did love the chemistry between Bianca and Wesley; it kept me reading, just to see what insult she'd throw at him next.
Overall, The Duff was a very strong debut by an author I'm eager to read more from in the future. I'm really grateful as a reader that Keplinger was able to take a step back from the cliches and often untrue descriptions of high school that are so pervasive throughout YA; and to deliver a setting that rings true to me as a teenager.
The Duff is snarky and punchy and just what teen readers need from contemporary YA--a new voice that's got some gumption to it, and most of all, a whole lot of realism.
My Rating: 8/10. Pretty good read overall, pick it up if you have a chance. Oh, and I LOVE the cover. For once, there's a girl on the cover that stays true to what I'd expect her to look like based off of descriptions--there isn't any of that annoying skinny-fying and glamorizing (she has freckles!) done here. I'm doing my happy-dance for covers right now. :)
FTC Disclosure: I received the ARC for review from the publisher
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