“I need your help. You see, your friends are hot. And you, darling, are the Duff.”
Yep–I’ll admit it, I picked up this book purely based on the title. It got me.
It might be hard to see in that cover photo, but DUFF stands for Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend.
I honestly don’t know whether my junior high/high school experiences were entirely different or pretty much the same as everyone else’s, but when you’re a curvy, muscular girl, and your stick-figure friends all fit nicely in the waifish styles of the grunge-era 90s, well…it’s hard not to identify with the DUFF feeling. My friends never made me feel less beautiful than they were, but it was difficult to stand in a group with them and not feel, well, fat.
So, clearly, I had to read The DUFF.
I was hooked from the beginning. Keplinger writes in a way that’s immediately absorbing; her main character, Bianca, is acidly sarcastic, whip-smart, and filled with self-doubt. I adored her, and the emotional complexity Keplinger gives her. Bianca’s a protective and loyal friend, and underneath her sometimes hard exterior, she guards a compassionate heart. Her home life leaves a lot to be desired, and there were a couple of times when I was really angry with her parents, but Bianca frankly forgives them. Because it’s so well-written, it’s easy to understand Bianca’s desire to keep her family relationships in tact, despite things that are happening that seem entirely unfair.
I would have liked, frankly, to see more of some of the other characters in the book. I loved Wesley; he seemed completely authentic and identifiable, and I loved his complexity. I was also partial to Toby, and the idea that Bianca would have a crush on someone who’s not traditional “crush material.” Bianca’s friends, Jessica and Casey, though, were so likable that I’d have appreciated more of them–Casey, in particular, seems not to feature enough for a character who’s so well-loved by the MC.
As for the plot, it’s almost painfully realistic. Bianca’s life starts falling apart, and she desperately needs to escape. She manages to find the distraction she’s looking for in Wesley, the school womanizer, whom she finds completely repulsive. And cute. But disgusting. And distracting.
In all, I enjoyed so much about The DUFF: the friendships and high-school setting were pitch perfect (which may have something to do with the fact that Keplinger was 18 when the book was published; trust me, it does not feel like it was written by a girl in high school). Though the narration can get a little preachy, at times, the psychology and motivations of the characters were well developed, which is always important to me. HOWEVER, the book is crazy full of swearing. I can’t really understate how much language there is in this book–it’s a LOT. There’s also a TON of teenage sex. There aren’t a bunch of awkward nitty-gritty details, but it’s happening a lot, and is a major focus of the book, so it’s not like a reader could just…skim over those parts. It’s definitely not a book for younger teens, and I really should have DNFed it, according to my own rules, but I have to give Kiplinger props for keeping the writing engaging enough that I really wanted to know what would happen to Bianca. My personal ability to relate to her may have had something to do with that, so I guess it is what it is?
Three conflicted stars. This would easily have been a four-star book if I hadn’t been frustrated by the constant language.
“Are you listening, Bianca? What you are is an intelligent, sassy, sarcastic, cynical, neurotic, loyal, compassionate girl. That’s what you are, okay? Just because you have some secrets and some screwups…You’re just confused…like the rest of us.”
The DUFF is an On the Backlist book!