Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Publication Date: September 7, 2010
Source / Format: Library book!
Page Count: 277
Genre: Young Adult
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When cocky and arrogant Wesley Rush calls Bianca Piper a DUFF -- Designated, Ugly, Fat Friend-- he gives her a complex, and a justifiable reason to hate him outside of his man whore tendencies and obnoxious self assuredness. Bianca always knew she was big but she never realized how much Wesley was right about her appearance status with her two best friends. On top of that, her parent's marriage is crumbling, and she is assigned to work with Wesley, which actually doesn't end up being as horrible as she had wanted it and hoped to be. In fact, he's kind of a good listener, and she's just not ready to not hate him.

"I actually need your help. You see, your friends are hot. And you, darling, are the Duff." 
"Is that even a word?" 
"Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend," he clarified. "No offense, but that would be you." 
"I am not the--!"
"Hey, don't get defensive. It's not like you're an ogre or anything, but in comparison..." He shrugged his broad shoulders. ... "The point is, scientists have prove than every group of friends has a weak link, a Duff. And girls respond well to guys who associate with their Duffs." 

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger forced me to get back in touch with High School Me. Not that I wanted to. According to my diaries back then, I totally felt like the Duff. I didn't know the acronym existed, but I dedicated several entries to the same kind of self-deprecation that Bianca feels when Wesley bequeathes her with the title of the DUFF in her group of friends. Bianca is just one of those characters that I instantly connected with because of our eerie similarities. Not quite an 'ideal' body type. Attracted to the cute, smart, political boys. Feminist. Not always down for the loud clubs and extreme social gatherings. Oh, and full of wry, sarcastic comments and wit. Basically, Bianca and I are soul sisters. Keplinger was 18 when The DUFF was published, which is probably why Bianca's voice, and the voices of her peers are strikingly accurate and realistic. And so, the theory that I started on with Doormat by Kelly McWilliams continues: more teens should write YA! 

At one time, I thought being the Duff meant no boy drama. Clearly, I was wrong. How did this happen? How did I, the ugly girl, end up in the middle of a love triangle? I wasn't a romantic. I didn't really even want to date. But there I was, torn between two attractive guys that, by all means, I shouldn't have had a shot with. (Trust me, not as glamorous as it sounds.)

When I read my old high school diaries, and relive my feelings of Duffness, I want to reach into the pages and shake my old self. "Snap out of it!" I want to yell at me. Much was the same for my reading experience with Bianca. Sometimes I thought her cynicism and inability to look on the bright side of anything was laid on a little bit too thick. Even when people are giving her a chance or complimenting her, she shoots it down with a snarly retort and keeps a very strong wall built up around her. I wanted to tell her, like Wesley does, to lighten up a little bit and enjoy the high school experience, no matter how sucky it can be. Bianca's friends were sweet to her, and embraced her pessimistic outlook on life while also trying to lift her up to be the best Bianca she could be, which I thought was sweet. Her friends really understood her, but also knew that there was potential for something else within her and kept pushing her towards things that would make her happy.

Wesley stood up, his face hard and serious. He grabbed me by the shoulders and held me firmly, forcing me to look up at him. "Listen to me," he said. "You are not a whore. Are you listening, Bianca? What you are is an intelligent, sassy, sarcastic, cynical, neurotic, loyal, compassionate girl. That's what you are, okay? You're not a slut or a whore or anything remotely similar. Just because you have some secrets and some screwups...You're just the rest of us." 

I appreciated that Keplinger gave her characters the power to surprise her readers, which I think ties in perfectly with the overall theme of not judging those around you. She paints each character in such a specific light, that we think we have them all figured out. Then a little anecdote slips in from Bianca's memory and suddenly, we see the characters differently. Case in point is WESLEY. I thought for sure that I would absolutely, 100% loathe Wesley. For several chapters I could not find a redeemable quality in the smarmy, arrogant little bastard. But then, we learn more about him and suddenly, we're not able to pigeonhole him into the stereotype we thought we would be able to. 

Though reading The DUFF yanked me back into awkward high school flashbacks of my self consciousness, I loved the raw and realistic characters and the surprises that they threw my way. I can't wait to read more work from Keplinger!

Rating: 4 / 5

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