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Friday, October 01, 2010

Too Old? Too Prudish? Whatever. I Still Don't Get The DUFF.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper knows she's not the prettiest girl in her clique. Or the skinniest. Or the most well-liked. But she's shocked when playboy Wesley Rush informs her that she is, in fact, The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). "It's not like you're an ogre or anything," he explains, "but in comparison ...(6)" His cruelty wounds Bianca more than she wants to admit, hence the Cherry Coke she throws in his face. Still, the insult lingers. As does the anger, which she feels boiling through her at the mere sight of Wesley.

When Bianca's assigned to work with her arch enemy on a school project, she's not exactly thrilled. Especially since Wesley insists on calling her "Duffy." Trouble is, when she's alone with him, he's not all that bad. The jerk may even have a sensitive side. Considering the fact that Bianca's family is falling apart at the seams, she could use a sympathetic ear. And arms. And lips. Okay, she's hopelessly attracted to him. Only she can't tell a soul. Her friends wouldn't understand. Heck, she doesn't even understand. All she knows is that hanging out with Wesley makes her feel better. Maybe he's toying with her, playing with her emotions as carelessly as he does with all the other girls' - so what? She's using him, too, right? It's all fair.

It's only when she realizes how much she's come to rely on Wesley that she faces the truth: not only does she like the uber flirt, she might actually love him. Of course he doesn't feel the same way - a guy like Wesley would never fall for The Duff. Their little enemies-with-benefits arrangement was supposed to be an emotionless fling. So, why is Bianca hurting so badly? Cutting herself off is the only solution. Good thing sweet, Harvard-bound Toby's waiting in the wings. He's not a user, but her heart doesn't throw a tizzy when he's around either. If Bianca's The Duff, then why is her love life suddenly so complicated?

The DUFF, a debut YA novel by 19-year-old Kody Keplinger, has been getting so much buzz lately that I couldn't wait to tear open its cover and start reading. Then, the F-bombs started exploding, the sex talk got going, and Bianca's abrasive personality reared its ugly head. I would have quit with Chapter One, but by then, I had to know how things turned out. Still, the more I read, the less I cared for our foul-mouthed heroine. I didn't like her enough to feel sorry for her when things got rough at home, or when her situation with Wesley got confusing. My opinion? They're both self-centered users - they deserve each other. None of the other characters were developed enough to become truly interesting. All of this, combined with the profusive profanity, graphic sex scenes, and the way all the teens in the book talked about intercourse like it was the most casual thing in the world, left me hunting for redemptive value. Guess what? I found very little. Keplinger can write, the story she tells is compelling (though in a "Why am I still reading this?" kind of way) and the novel does carry a "Just be yourself" message. However, if being yourself means living the kind of coarse, depressing, shallow life Keplinger describes, then no thank you.

Unlike a lot of YA authors, Keplinger's actually attended high school in the 21st Century, so maybe The DUFF reflects a realistic teenage experience. Maybe I'm just too old or too big a prude to get it. It's totally possible. Because I didn't. At all.

(Readalikes: Hm, I don't know. Suggestions?)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, graphic sexual content, and one instance of physical abuse toward a child.

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. I have this one coming to me .. hope I don't have the same response... Eek!

  2. Yeah, I noticed that I really didn't get a lot of it either. Especially the casual sex stuff and the swearing. Glad to see I'm not the only one :)

  3. The cursing and casual sex was actually one of the things I liked about the book. Not that I think casual sex is OKAY, but it was a lot more real than a lot of YA's these days. Unfortunately, most teens cuss a lot, and a whole lot of them have a lot more sex than Bianca. Or maybe that was just my high school? I do understand how that could turn someone away from the book, though.

    Great review though, sorry you didn't enjoy it.

    Happy readings. :)

  4. I have not read this, but I've heard many of the same complaints.
    I think I'd agree with you though... I graduated in 2003 so it wasn't tooooo long ago, but my high school was NOT like that. The cursing maybe, but the sex talk not so much. Sure people had sex and talked about it, but not casually- it was behind closed doors with your closest girlfriends, normally fretting about it.
    Teaching pre-teens and teens, I can see how this is the trend in schools right now... hopefully it chills out!

  5. I graduated in 2003 and I have to say this book just felt so much more real to me that the other YA lit I've been reading. The cursing and sex was just spot on. I mean, not all teens are like that, but there are some in every school who will read this and say OMG thank goodness we're now in a book, and this is us. It isn't cleaned up to make us look better, it's real. I just adore this book!

    Interesting to hear your point of view - reading it I knew there would be people that didn't like it (and no doubt it will be on lists for banned books week next year!) but I think it definitely has it's audience.

  6. Jessi E - I know. I was hoping I'd love it and I just ... didn't.

    Melissa - Even besides the sex and swearing, I thought the characters were flat, the whole plot was unfocused, there was just a lot that I didn't like.

    ABJ - I can see why teenagers would identify with this book - I'm sure it is much more realistic than the average YA book is. I graduated a *long* time ago (1994) and I hung out with a group of goodie-to-shoes, so this did not reflect my high school experience AT ALL.

    Jenna - My thoughts exactly. I know lots of teenagers at my h.s. were sexually active, but it wasn't something people bragged about. At least not to me :)

    Amy - Like I said before, I'm sure lots of teens will be all over the book because it seems realistic to them. Maybe it's a love it or hate it kind of thing? Or maybe I'm just too old and too big a prude to appreciate it? I think that's probably it :)

  7. Hey don't put down old and prudish. I've been both for years:) It's ok to have standards and be open about them. You are a breath of fresh air and I appreciate your honest review.


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