Mary’s Book Review: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

How Excited Was I To Read This Book? 7. I liked the title, The Duff, and the tone it set.

How Excited Was I After I Read This Book? 8. I had an awesome double-feature day, reading two books in a row, all afternoon and evening. My splurge came to a very satisfying conclusion with the ending of this book! Spoiler alert (but not really!): it’s a happy one.

Book Jacket: 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 “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 she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Review: I loved Bianca, the narrator of this book. She was sarcastic and bitter and angry and funny and excitable and enthusiastic and everything a good teenager should be.

A lot of people will probably read this book and come away with a lot of thoughts about appearances. Wesley’s nickname for Bianca, the Duff, stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” which he glibly explains to her in the first chapter. But the real heart of the book lies in the characters’ vulnerabilities. They may stem from appearances, but also from family troubles, boy problems, or really anywhere. A major theme running through the book is not what those vulnerabilities are or may be, but who we are willing to share them with. These are the questions Bianca struggles with more than her appearance – a focus that I definitely appreciated.

As I’ve found generally must be the case with any book I’ve enjoyed, the supporting characters here are great. Wesley could have been just another asshole or he could have been a “misunderstood but really very nice guy”-type character. (Mmm, on second thought, maybe only the former. The latter might be a stretch.) But he’s neither. We get to see the complications of his character through her observations of him, just as Bianca’s are revealed through her own narrative. On a similar note, I also really appreciated how I as the reader got to know Wesley along with Bianca. I knew we were both in trouble when she started referring to him as simply Wesley rather than by his full name!

Unresolved-But-Maybe-Resolved Sexual Tension: This book is kind of ALL ABOUT sexual tension. I’m pretty sure I’m the one person for whom Wesley would hold no appeal – except that he held no appeal for Bianca herself, at least in the beginning. I like nice boys. But it didn’t matter! I loved watching their relationship develop. Parts felt real. (lots of uncertainty!) Parts were totally a stretch for me (how many teenagers are allowed to live essentially alone in high school? and Wesley would totally have more male friends, no matter how attractive he apparently is!). But the dialogue and character’s reactions felt spot on.

Re-readability: This was a journey that I got to share with Bianca. I’m not sure it would be as meaningful the second time around. But it’s an enjoyable read all the same!

Recommended For: This might seem at first glance to be a Cinderella tale but don’t be fooled. Bianca stays very much herself. So I would recommend this to people looking for a smart high school book, not those looking for a fairy tale – though the ending, needless to say, is still a happy one.

If You Liked This Book You Should Also Check Out: Hmm… snarky teenager in high school books? I know I know millions of these, but I’m going with anything Sarah Dessen for starters – maybe not for the snarkyness but for the vulnerabilities. The Truth About Forever is a great place to start! Also maybe the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty, though Wesley Rush is very different from Marcus Flutie! I would say Jessica is not quite as nice as Bianca, who is sometimes really too nice, but she’s a good observer too. And it’s a great series!