Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Title: The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend 
Author: Kody Keplinger 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA 
Publication date: September 7, 2010 
Rating: ★★★★

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 the 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’s she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Okay, this book definitely won’t win an award for it’s intellect or it’s extraordinary story or its depth or it’s remarkable characters. But – I liked it. I liked it a lot, actually. Sometimes I’m just complete trash for this kind of romance. And, I promise, it’s a lot better than the synopsis makes it out to be. Yes, it’s a bit predictable; yes it has some obvious cliches. Yes. But I’m going to tell you why you might enjoy this anyway.

First of all, it’s predictable, but it’s also not. I thought this was going to be your typical plain girl hates hot guy, but then gets to know him better and decides he’s a worthy person after all, but she’s afraid because she really isn’t as hot as his usual girlfriends, but he doesn’t care and he starts hanging out with her and eventually he takes her to prom and on the last page of the book they kiss and they spend the rest of their lives together in one big happily ever after. But it wasn’t! In fact, it might have been the opposite. Wesley is the womanizer of the school, but it’s Bianca who starts using him because she needs to distract herself from her problems. Which is an interesting lead, actually, because not a lot of authors dare to make their female main character so open-minded about hook-ups and one-night-stands. She’s the one making decisions, she’s the one taking lead.

No matter where you go or what you do to distract yourself, reality catches up with you eventually.

Which brings me to the second reason you might like this book: Bianca. She’s really great. Confident (most of the time), loyal, mature and delightfully cynical and sarcastic, which is the trait I appreciated the most since I’m basically a native sarcasm speaker. Also, she’s told she’s the Duff in her group of friends (not particularly ugly - although the word suggests otherwise - but definitely not as hot as her friends and therefore more ‘approachable’) and she takes this well. She struggles with it, not being able to deny the truth in it, but she doesn’t let it define her. Bianca sticks with being herself, despite the Duff label, and I think that’s admirable.

Third reason: there’s Wesley Rush. I know he’s a horrible cliche of a guy, but I can’t pretend that I didn’t feel attracted to him. He’s handsome, he’s a womanizer and (to use Bianca’s words) screws everything he can lay his hands on. But he’s an honest one, if that makes any sense? He doesn’t make false promises and doesn’t lead anyone on. I’m not sure if it justifies his actions, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not and the girls he sleeps with know what they’re getting themselves into. Him sleeping around wasn’t the reason I liked him, obviously. Honestly, I’m not even sure I did like him until the third part of the book (by then I definitely did). I think I just thought he was really hot and compelling and I fell for him. Yeah, I know. I told you I was trash. But he has his good sides. For instance, even though he called Bianca the Duff, he doesn’t treat her any different from other girls. At first at least, because they obviously become friends and then things do change. But he doesn’t try to ‘improve’ her, doesn’t even once hint at her being less attractive or a bit chubbier than others. In fact, I think her not being a Barbie kind of turned him on. Which is a welcome change in this messed up world where everyone needs to starve him/herself, thank you very much.

I also liked the maturity level of the book. The story is set in high school, but I think it’s portrayed pretty realistically. They’re seniors, they’re not some inexperienced kids anymore that fuss about an almost-kiss. There are no taboos, no things that are ‘inappropriate’ to talk about. I haven’t read a lot of YA that handles sex so openly. Maybe I just haven’t read the right books, idk, but I appreciated it in this one. Don’t think this book will go all fifty shades on you, though. Not at all. But there’s a lot of intimacy and it’s handled well. Not too implicit, not too explicit either. There’s a good balance.
But I should soften this up a bit, because in some ways (not often) it was still somewhat immature. Mostly when Bianca started comparing her relationship to the complex relationships in Wuthering Heights. Sorry, but there’s no way that comparison will ever make sense in this kind of book. It’s just been done too many times and never actually right.

The subplot is enjoyable too. Bianca’s family is struggling and it’s what drives her to Wesley in the first place. It’s a believable story, with the right amount of drama. There are serious parts in this book. It has more depth than I originally thought it’d have and it teaches some valuable lessons. Not everything’s lightheaded. And there’s also somewhat of love triangle and although I usually feel strongly opposed to those, here it didn’t bother me that much. Okay, it did annoy me. But it was over before it could really ruin anything.

In conclusion, if you like romances, I think you might enjoy this. It is definitely relatable and it handles subjects we’re all susceptible to. The book has enough depth to keep you interested and involved. You should try it. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, and perhaps even more than my head says I should.

I was the Duff. And that was a good thing. Because anyone who didn't feel like the Duff must not have friends. Every girl feels unattractive sometimes. Why had it taken me so long to figure that out? Why had I been stressing over that dumb word for so long when it was so simple? I should be proud to be the Duff. Proud to have great friends who, in their minds, were my Duffs.

Note: I have also watched the movie. The only reason I picked this book up was because I’d heard about the movie (starring Robbie Amell!) and I wanted to read the book before I watched it. Eh, I’m way less positive about the movie adaption than I am about the book. Remember how I said this book was more mature than you’d expect? Or that I really liked Bianca? Not in the movie. They made her a total stereotype. Dressing her in awful baggy clothes, making her a social disaster that totally bails on her friends and blames them for being prettier than her. In fact, this movie told the exact story I thought the book was going to tell before I started it. The one that ends with the perfect kiss at prom. The names of the characters and the Duff-thing were the same, but there weren’t that much more similarities. There was definitely no mention of her ‘physical’ relationship with Wesley. Too disturbing for all those sweet little teens, I suppose. Haha. It had Robbie Amell and he’s bae, so that made it a bit more interesting, but it really wasn’t a good movie. Especially not when you’ve just read the book.

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