The Duff by Kody Keplinger
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 man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.
Here’s the Scoop:
Bianca is one eye rolling, f-bomb dropping can of teenage angst. Translation: she’s a total bish. I guess she has reason. Her mom is a motivational speaker who hasn’t bothered to come home in ages. Her dad is a pathetically sweet recovering alcoholic who is blind to the signs that his dear wife has lost interest in him (or that his sweet little girl is kind of an butthead). It’s not that Bianca is a bad girl. She’s a good student. She’s a loyal friend and she’s responsible—but girlfriend has a major chip on her shoulder.
Enter Wesley Rush, Man-slut Extraordinaire. Wesley is your stereotypical naughty boy—handsome, arrogant, and looking to get into the pants of every girl around. When he makes it clear to Bianca that he hopes to get in good with her in order to impress her friends, she’s understandably repulsed. Wesley then goes further and calls Bianca “The Duff” (designated ugly fat friend) and she throws her Coke in his face and storms away. The problem is she can’t stop thinking about that comment and so she does what you should always do when you hate a guy: she has cheap, hot sex with him. Now somehow Wesley, the person she hates most, becomes the guy who makes her forget everything bad in her life. It’s all physical, of course…until it starts to feel like something more.
I have to be honest. I absolutely HATED Bianca for about the first half of this book. I couldn’t understand, even with her family drama and the whole Duff thing, how any person can be that grumpy and cynical all the time. I had a hard time understanding why her friends, Jessica and Casey, would ever want to be around her. I wouldn’t want to be around her (but I walk around like Maria from The Sound of Music, which I hear is equally annoying to some people. And to that I say, “When the dog bites. When the bee stings. When I’m feeling sad. I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so baaaaaaaad” and also, !!!!!!!!!!!! Who hates Maria? ). I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened, but somewhere along the line, my feelings changed. Bianca was still a kind of a jerkhole, but she didn’t bother me as much. Maybe I felt I understood her more or maybe I just got used to it. In any case, in the end I liked her.
Wesley was a different story. He’s a mega-slimeball, but I liked him immediately. Mostly it’s because I found it funny that he laid his cards out on the table. He was like, “If I’m nice to you, I’ll get my rocks off with your friends. And thazz what I want, Duffy.” I think it’s gross and I would have thrown my drink at him too, but I found his honesty amusing. Very early into his “relationship” (horizontal times) with Bianca, he’s shown to be a pretty nice guy. Underneath his slutty image is someone with a kind heart who doesn’t suffer that fatal flaw I always hate: being annoyingly perfect. No, he’s far from perfect but it’s satisfying to see that he isn’t as bad as he seems.
The Duff is not for the super-duper conservative or for those who are in any way offended by what real teenagers think, do or say (and if you are…why, may I ask, are you reading YA?). The language is kind of foul—at least to my ultra goody two shoes ears—and there is real live steamy sex going on; but it was realistic without being terribly graphic (meaning: this ain’t no bodice ripper). While Bianca and Wesley said and did things that I wouldn’t particularly do, I felt that Keplinger’s voice was so authentic and edgy that the characters were easy to relate to. A lot has been made of the fact that she was a teenager when she wrote this book, but I find it to be less of a compliment to say “it’s good writing for a teenager” or worse, to be surprised that a teenager wrote it. The Duff is good because it’s well-written and because Keplinger is a talented author. End of story.
Crush Intensity: 4/5 I was so pleasantly surprised and happy to see that this was as good as I’d heard.
Brownie Points: Keplinger earns extra Brownie points with me because she is a pop culture junkie. She references Clueless, Family Ties (holla to Alex P. Keaton, baby!), Atonement and Becoming Jane, to name a few. I mean two James McAvoy movies? I love me some Jimmy! (and, you know, the books are good too).
I could have stopped there. I could have stood up and left the room. I could have let that kiss be the end of it. But I didn’t. The mind-numbing sensation I got from kissing him was so euphoric–such a high–that I couldn’t stand to give it up that fast. I might have hated Wesley Rush, but he held the key to my escape, and at that moment I wanted him…I needed him.