Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: The Duff

Kody Keplinger
Young Adult
277 pages
Poppy/Little, Brown
Available Now

Bianca's never really given much thought to the discrepancies between her physical appearance and those of her two best friends. It's not until popular-boy Wesley offhandedly calls her The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) that she begins to take note of her somewhat average looks. She's always known she's not supermodel beautiful, but that one little word seeps into her memory and refuses to leave.

To make matters worse, she finds herself paired with Wesley for a school assignment and is therefore unable to completely shun him for all eternity as she would have liked. Even more unfortunate is the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes their lives aren't so different, as both are filled with unaddressed family problems and persistent insecurities.

Unable to admit her feelings for, and closeted relationship with, Wesley to her best friends, Bianca finds herself increasingly isolated from the world around her, left to deal with an absentee mother and a father with a history of alcohol abuse. And to her utter shock, the only person who even remotely understands is the person she wants most to hate but is frighteningly coming to care about.

The DUFF, a story based on a fundamentally repulsive acronym, is unapologetically honest and at times so realistic it's easy to forget we're reading a piece of fiction. This is not a cute, quirky, comforting read; instead it's frustrating, irritating, and sometimes uncomfortable in it's portrayal of a teenage life, but so often that's how brutal honesty makes us feel. Life would be much easier and far more pleasant if it consisted predominantly of genial platitudes and general niceties, forgoing the difficulty and bitterness in favor of a complacent superficiality that cheats us out of emotional depth. The DUFF doesn't try to win our favor and approval by placating us with half truths coated in sugar so they're easier to swallow, presenting it's story instead without fancy trimmings and eloquent descriptions, and leaving behind a blunt, straightforward tale we appreciate all the more for it's unwavering truthfulness.

Bianca is beautifully depicted, earning our sympathy (though she certainly doesn't need it or ask for it) after her initial encounter with Wesley, but our relationship with her isn't always smooth. Her sense of humor and use of sarcasm are charming, and we can't help but respect a girl who refuses to be intimidated by a lopsided smile and a pretty face. Just when we wish for the ability to defy the laws of nature and want nothing more than to reach through the pages to leave a pulsing red welt in the shape of our hand on the masculine beauty of Wesley's face, we can sit back and smile as Bianca rises to the occasion and does it in our stead. She doesn't always make the smart decisions however, in fact she often makes questionable ones that cause us, the invested yet outside observers, to shake our heads in dismay. She is flawed, makes mistakes, and says and does things she shouldn't, but through her flaws it's so easy to see ourselves reflected back at us, knowing our choices haven't always been wise either. As a result of this revelation, we hold Bianca close to our hearts as our connection to her becomes a closed circuit through which all of our shared feelings travel back and forth between fiction and reality, character and reader, and friend and confidante.

Wesley is a character we make a valid and noble attempt to dislike, his initial hurtful assessment of Bianca's physical attractiveness spiking a bout of righteous indignation on her behalf so spectacularly intense it seems he'll never be able to survive the insufferable cold of our emotional freeze. However, soon his subtle charm begins to weave around us without our conscious recognition, intangible cords binding us to him unexpectedly until we can no longer deny his appeal, and we find ourselves desperately hoping he'll drop a fraction of the bravado and show us the decency we can sense is buried deep but is making a slow ascent to the surface. He is uncannily capable of inspiring a wealth of contradictory emotions in Bianca, making her both angry and happy, causing her to feel both ugly and beautiful, and embarrassing her while also providing her with a confidence she was lacking previously. For his part, he is both attractive and at times repugnant, a combination which makes him a fascinating character who adds a vital piece to a stunningly imperfect story.

The DUFF isn't always pretty, nor is it always fun to read. It's infuriating and difficult, but also so very satisfying in it's frankness, presenting us with a tale where characters are forced to deal with the hand they've been dealt; some utilizing the sensual heat of a physical relationship to obliterate reality, and others finding solace in the numbing warmth of a bottle, but all are struggling with relatable emotional challenges. Not everyone will love this story or it's characters, but it doesn't coddle us with a perfect male lead and a magical solution to significant problems, and we can all acknowledge life isn't always pretty or fun either. We don't always wake up excited to start the day and sometimes the problems in our lives overshadow the joys, but we can take comfort in knowing we're not alone in the journey, and sometimes we discover the support we need comes in an unexpected and not always welcome form.

Rating: 4.5/5


  1. Jenny, this is a great review! I love how you capture that the reading experience might not always be 100% pleasant, but the book has a lot of merit. I have a feeling that I'd love this book, but I haven't managed to get my hands on it yet. Must order soon.

  2. Great review. This book was very realistic at times and I am still shocked Keplinger was only 17 when she wrote it!

  3. I liked that Bianca had actual reasons for her sarcasm and view on "love" and the fact that Wesley was a strong enough character to grow made for a satisfying ending instead of a cookie cutter HEA.

  4. As I mentioned in my review, I loved Bianca's voice except her decision to solve life problems by jumping into people's beds is what turned me off completely. I understand that is how some teens deal with the issues, but it just seems a bit one dimensional for me. However as you said, we (the readers) may not agree with her decisions, but for me that was hard to ignore. Great review, Jenny!

  5. Wow! Great review. I really didn't have much interest in this one all along, but now I think it might be worth checking out!

  6. I'm so on the fence about this one. I've heard a lot of people disliked Bianca, and that worries me. There's a fine line between tolerating and liking a character for me. I'm glad to see that you appreciated the value of this book though, Jenny! Maybe I'll give it a go after all :)

  7. I hated my high school life. Just being a teenager is hard enough without everyone else making it even harder. I will definitely pick this book up. The way you wrote your review, makes me want to read this. Will put it on my list. Thanks Jenny!!

  8. "She is flawed, makes mistakes, and says and does things she shouldn't, but through her flaws it's so easy to see ourselves reflected back at us, knowing our choices haven't always been wise either."

    I see that we are indeed twins today! Perfectly put! In fact, this entire review is lovely - wonderfully written. You are far more eloquent on this book than I was ;)

    I really enjoyed this one - no, it is not a perfect book, but it is a really solid story.

    -Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

  9. I really like how this book comes off as being realistic and relatable. I'm still not sure about the characters though. I'm okay with Bianca having her flaws, but the whole falling for the guy who is mean and hurtful to you doesn't sit well with me. I'll have to think about this one... Wonderful review as always. :D

  10. I really enjoyed your review. The frankness has made me want to read it even more. I think a book like this can be a refreshing change.

  11. Loved this book. So real and funny but heartbreakingly honest at the same time! Awesome review !

  12. What a fantastic review! I haven't heard of anyone disliking this book though it could be heartbreaking!

  13. Vee - Thank you! It's definitely not for everyone because the decisions made are ones that make you angry, but I loved it:)

    Nic - Me too! I couldn't believe that when I read it.

    Jennifer - I agree!

    Rummanah - I wasn't a fan of her decision to sleep with Wesley, but I thought it was realistic one. Girls make those decisions all the time, and though I can't relate to it, I understand how it could happen. Loved reading your thoughts on this one though, it was fun to see where we differed!

    Leanna - I hope you do, but I know the reviews are mixed on this one.

    Melissa - I liked Bianca quite a bit, I didn't always respect her decisions and I know that turned a lot of people off, but I enjoyed her:)

    Savy - High school is no fun, glad I only have to experience it through books I can choose to walk away from if I have to!

    Linds - Thank you, and I completely agree with your take on it:)

    Adriana - It didn't sit well with me either, but Wesley grew on me:)

    Slowest - It was definitely refreshing for me, a nice break from some of the perfect boys I'd been reading in paranormal YA.

    Mollie - So true!

  14. Felicia - Thank you! It's been pretty mixed from what I've read, but I loved it:)

  15. I loved this book! One of my favorites this year. It's hard to know why I'm so hard on some characters yet love others for the same reasons - and I adored both Bianca and Wesley - even tough they were pretty unlikable most of the time.

  16. After seeing a bunch of mixed reviews for this one, I finally put it on my TBR a little while ago. Your review really helps put the book in perspective. I'm glad I read your review before reading the book. I'll be keeping what you wrote here in mine when I read it. Thanks!

  17. I think reading this book was definitely about the experience. To me, it was about hating a character and then seeing them in a new light. Loved your review.

  18. Awesome review! I'm glad you enjoyed it! Unfortunately, I couldn't finish it. I tried, but the story didn't reel me in and I had a difficult time warming up to the two MCs.

  19. Glad you found something enjoyable with this one! I didn't really care for it much, but I still agree with the majority of the points you've made. Does that make sense? lol

  20. Jenny, I almost feel relieved to read this well thought out review. I remember coming across a review for The Duff in which someone said, "I just didn't get it." Or something along those lines. Obviously, not for everyone, but I'm interested because it does sound different.

    And agh! I remember guys like Wesley from high school.

  21. Karen - Me too! And I completely agree, a character doing what Bianca did outside of the context of this story would have irritated me, and though her actions bothered me at times, I felt like they were mistakes she needed to make. Not sure that made sense:)

    Small - It's definitely pretty evenly split between those that loved it and those that didn't care for it. I'll be interested to see what you think!

    Anna - Thank you!

    Laura - Too bad, it's definitely not for everyone and I can see how it would bother and frustrate a lot of people:)

    Ashley - It does! I just found the honesty in this one refreshing, I was ready for a YA that wasn't all about insta-lust and then a happy ending:)

    Missie - I remember those boys too and I still want to slap them even though it's been a while since I was in high school!

  22. I have wanted to read this but haven't gotten around to it. Stories come from real life a lot and it sounds like this one holds all the pain and indecision that reality does.

    This review was superbly thought out and written.

  23. I'm always astounded at how you manage to capture exactly how a book makes you feel and write about it so fluidly. You should write a book one day, that's for sure!

    I liked The Duff but I'll admit I had some issues with it. What I do applaud Keplinger for is how she tackled the topic of teen sex by not ignoring it but by um...doing the exact opposite. There were some sexy times in that book (a lot of them actually. not that I mind...)and I'm glad that she was brave and honest enough to include them. Being almost the same age as the author, I can say that she got that part completely right! I do wish she had mentioned more about what happened with Bianca and her father though.

  24. Great review! This is one book I was surprised by. I thought it was going to be typical chick-lit but it was just the opposite.

  25. Awesome review! This looks like such a great read! I bought it a little while back, but havent gotten the chance to read it yet... Thanks for your thoughts on it hon!

  26. Oh, what an awesome review as always. I've had this on my TBR pile for quite some time now, but will now be making a an effort to get a copy of this book asap! I love your descriptions and depictions of the characters and their flaws and strengths, and can't wait to be introduced to these intense characters!

  27. Midnyte - Thank you, I hope you'll give it a try.

    Pirate - I agree with you on her dad, I would have loved a little more there as well, and I applaud her for the lack of hesitancy to represent teen sex as it is in reality and those decisions are actually made on a daily basis.

    Andrea - I was surprised as well, I avoided it for a long time but am glad to have finally read it!

    Larissa - You're welcome:)

    Tammy - I'll be interested to see what you think, and if the characters intrigue or annoy you:)

  28. Fascinating review. There are definitely some books that are more meant to be appreciated than enjoyed - and that's not a criticism. It takes a lot of skill to deal with hard issues and not put off a reader. I also like characters sometimes who seem hard to like, but because you're inside their head and can understand them, you learn to care for them.

  29. Wonderful Review! I haven't heard of this book previously, but it sounds like it is a good one. I like books that evoke emotional reactions in the reader. I like feeling invested in the characters and the outcome of the story.

  30. Alison - I agree completely, that's very much how I felt with this one.

    Carissa - Thank you, I was definitely invested in this one even though it made me furious at times:)

  31. I've heard lots of mixed things about this one, but I really like your review because it was so clear that you were able to form a connection with the characters. Wesley does sound infuriating but complex! And it's so true...a book does not have to be enjoyable to be well-written.

  32. I literally just finished this book maybe an hour ago. It blew me away. I love your review and totally agree.

  33. I've always been super curious about this book. I see good reviews and not so good reviews. I think I'm def going to still read it though. I do always like some contemporary fiction to help break up those droll days.

    In the Closet With a Bibliophile

  34. Thankyou for the review. I havent read the book, but looking from the review and the comments above, it seems like a great book ! 😁