Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genres: Realistic Fiction
Summary: The first time seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper hears the term "Duff," she's sitting by the bar at a teen night club. Wesley Rush, the "most disgusting womanizing playboy to ever darken the doorstep of Hamilton High," saunters over to chat. Wesley wants to hook up with one of Bianca's hot friends and talking to their Designated Ugly Fat Friend, he explains to Bianca, is his way in. Bianca, being no shrinking violet, quickly and dramatically crushes his plan. Still, being called the Duff continues to niggle away at her. She knows she isn't really fat or ugly, but next to her gorgeous best friends she's a nonentity. Add to that her parents' crumbling marriage and the return of the boy who broke her heart, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction... So she kisses Wesley. It's stupid and she hates herself, but they start hooking up secretly. The plan is to keep everything on a strictly physical level, but then the impossible happens: she actually starts to like Wesley and is horrified to discover that she could actually be falling for the guy she hated more than anyone.
First off, I have to warn you. If (fictional) teen sex and swearing upset you, you might want to give The Duff a miss. This is an edgy book that is practically destined for the Banned Books list. Due to some harsh language and sexual content, I would only recommend this title for mature teens and adults. The relationship between Bianca and Wesley is smoldering, and most of the teenage characters drop the F-bomb more than once. (Though not all... Casey's discomfort with swearing was a subtle contrast, and one of the endearing details that makes this book so special.) So, yes, the content is a bit graphic, certainly more than in your average YA novel. But Keplinger isn't promoting sexual activity to teens—far from it, though this isn't a book with a heavy-handed abstinence message either.
So okay, you have been duly warned. Now on to what I loved about this novel. I cannot tell you how much I adored Bianca's snarky, smart, totally authentic voice. She's abrasive and more than a little spiteful—in real life, I might hate her. But she's also clever and loyal and eminently relatable. While her cynicism and aggression frequently shocked my inner sensibilities, I always understood where Bianca was coming from. She says what she thinks and makes bad decisions, but she accepts the consequences. In her first novel, Kody Kepplinger has created a memorable, fully realized character that I won't soon forget.
The other characters of The Duff are also fabulously complex. There's no question about it: Wesley is often a total jerk and is way too focused on physical gratification. But like Bianca, I somehow found myself liking him anyway, maybe even partly because of his unabashed behavior. Of course, he is also unexpectedly sweet and vulnerable with issues of his own. He's a real, nuanced person—not just a stereotypical Misunderstood Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold. And I loved Bianca's friends Casey and Jessica, and the relationship the three girls have with each other. Bianca's parents are not as skillfully drawn, but they too are flawed and interesting.
The teen dialog is spot-on, not surprising considering that Keplinger was 18 when she wrote the book. It feels fresh and natural, not stilted at all. The banter between Bianca and Wesley, reminiscent of the great repartee in classic screwball comedies but with a modern edge, is particularly engaging. The entire novel is smoothly written, flowing seamlessly between Bianca's inner thoughts and the exterior action.
All in all, this is a unique and fast-paced read that will be adored by the right audience. It is contemporary, sexy, and sharply funny. It examines teen self-esteem and the social labeling of others as well as being a modern love story and family drama. There is a lot to like about The Duff, and I look forward to reading Keplinger's next book, Shut Out, as soon as I can get my hands on it.
The Duff is one of the titles up for grabs in our Fall Giveaway Event.