Monday, November 29, 2010

The Duff by Kody Keplinger

The Duff
By Kody Keplinger
September 7, 2010
Poppy, 288 pages

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.

— description

I spent more than half of The Duff extremely pissed off. "This is an awful lesson for young girls about self-esteem. Even this book's title is insulting. How could ANY of my friends actually like this Wesley jerk? (Ginger, I'm looking at you!) How could Bianca show any romantic interest in a guy who puts her down so much? Why can't she just learn to talk out her issues?" I wanted to slap the girl.

Then she actually gets slapped by her father and I remembered: She's just a kid. It was a real aha! moment. My thoughts on the book did an instant 180.

Of course I think this Wesley guy is crap for her and she needs to work on her self-esteem—I've grown up and learned all these lessons already. She can't know this stuff at age 16; she's got to learn it herself the hard way. And, as a reader and as a former miserable teenage girl, I feel like I need learn to give main characters some more slack and stop judging while I read.

Haven't you ever fallen for a boy who was bad for you? I did. A few times! When I was her age, I made a lot of the mistakes Bianca made in this book, though in a less dramatic and literary way that didn't involve the whole sleeping around thing and instead involved quite a bit more of homework-doing and sucking up to teachers and reading.

It wasn't told in the most poetic way, and I felt there were plenty of shortcuts taken with the storytelling. But, in the end, the characters grew. And in this particular instance, that was enough to make me overlook this book's many flaws and feel pleased when I got the last page.

I'm not saying everyone should like Bianca or support her choices as a character. I'm just saying that if you really look at her, you might see a little bit of yourself at age 16. I did, and it reminded me that if I'm ever going to really "get" YA lit as an adult, I sometimes just have to give in to the teenage mind-set and go along for the ride. Even if I know better.

A great, unexpected lesson from a book I was convinced I'd hate.

If you like this book, you might also like: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian. Click here to see me read from the book.

PS: The teens in this book all got together at a teen-only club. Is it just me, or is this a total urban legend? Did anyone actually hang out at one of these when they were teens besides Buffy, Willow & the gang?

Anna Reads young adult book blog


  1. It's interesting to see a balanced/turn-around review on this one. Everything I've seen has been pretty polarised -- people seem to either love it, or hate it. It's nice that you went a deeper than emotional reaction. Fantastic review, Anna! :)

    Oh, and teen only nightclubs are surely a myth? I know a couple of places that host a few Under 18s events each year, but not all the time.

  2. Great review. I enjoyed this book. At first I hated Wes and ended up liking him. The characters and the story grow on you.

  3. I loved reading this review. I don't think it's the book for me but i do get why teens will enjoy it - and I love all the stuff you pointed out :)


  4. Love this review :)

    I had the same experience while reading this book. I was really pissed off and hating the characters, and then I started to realize that this wasn't a problem with the book so much as my adult reaction to what the characters were doing. That's not to say that there weren't other, legitimate problems, but the characters' stupid, immature behavior wasn't one of them.

    As I've come across more books with unlikeable protagonists that I actually enjoyed reading, I've been learning to judge the characters apart from the writing. Unfortunately The DUFF still wasn't my favorite =/

  5. I know.. I know.. I totally hyped up this book & told you how much I loved it - and I still do! I'm sorry you spent the first half pissed off at it though :-\ I think you hit the nail on the head though - this book is about making mistakes (even huge ones) and learning from them. I wanted to spit in Wesley's face at the beginning of this story & I wanted to slap Bianca silly - but that is just us being ADULTS and our reactions b/c we know better. We've been there.. we've lived it.. and now we're able to tell the young ones when they're screwing up :-) ahh the joys of growing old!

    I related to Bianca A LOT in this story & I think thats why I liked it so much. Unfortunately I was that girl at 16 who used her body & sex to get attention from guys b/c my self esteem was that low. I'm not proud of it & I definitely wish I had made better choices - but I can't change the past, only learn from it & move on.

    P.S. Did you see my tweet about winning Kody Keplinger's giveaway??!!! I did!!

  6. I've heard such conflicting reviews about this one. I've heard people say it was amazing and one of their favorite reads of 2010 and then I've heard people vehemently hate it! I just don't quite now if I should pick it up!

    I think that is the hardest part, sometimes, about reading YA as an adult. Being that older and "wiser" person, it's easy to judge and think that they MC is so stupid but you are so need to step back and see some of your 16 year old self in there. Chances are something about their choices will resonate within you.

    Good review! Even more conflicted about whether or not I should read this!

  7. Great review, Anna! I happened to really enjoy The DUFF, and I hated Wesley in the beginning. What you said about your "aha!" moment...about her being a kid...was so spot on. And I 100% agree with Jamie about it being difficult to put ourselves back into a teenager's shoes, as adults.

    Either way, I thought Kody Keplinger had a blunt, honest writing style. I can appreciate that, as it was an interesting change of pace in YA.

  8. Hey! A few people have contacted me, asking for more explanation as to why I gave this three stars. While I understood in the end where the main character was coming from and thought the book was an honest take on YA life, I can't say I love, love, loved it. I didn't love the author's writing style, and a few of the events in the plot seemed slightly contrived to me. But it WAS good, and I'd recommend it to others to see what they thought. Thus, three stars!

  9. I just finished this one and I was upset through a lot of it as well, but then I realized how involved I was in the story and that's why I was so bothered at times. And like you, I loved that she made mistakes, it made her real. Great review Anna!

  10. Excellent review, Anna! You know, I've seen really good reviews about this, and I've seen really bad ones. From some of my favourite reviewers, I've seen less-than-perfect reviews. You know, I'm not sure the context or voice of the story would wring true wit me because I...well, I'm conservative, and I hear there is some promiscuous behaviour going on to validate oneself and stuff. I (personally, of course) just don't like that. I do have to say I love that you were honest and fair with your review!

    P.S. Sorry my comment makes absolutely NO sense ;)

  11. I just stumbled upon your blog and stayed a bit, and I really like your review of The DUFF. I've heard good things about it, but your take on it was really interesting and has made me want to read it a little bit more. And now I will be following you!
    P.S. My college town has a club where a lot of teens hang out, but it still might be an over-eighteen kind of place. So this could very well be an urban legend- almost sounds like something worth investigating, actually.

  12. I didn't like THE DUFF. I recognize I'm far from the target audience, but writing style aside, I found the main character unsympathetic and inactive. She spent most of her time whining and avoiding making important decisions.

  13. I actually really enjoyed the Duff, but I can definitely see where you are coming from. I liked Bianca as a character but there were times when her cynical outlook was a little much. Wesley on the other hand I actually liked. I thought he was just misunderstood and he really didn't know any other way to act. He was like most teenage guys, too young to relaize the impact his words, even said in jest, could really have on a girl.

    As for the club thing I live on Long Island in New York and when I was a teen, teenage clubs were a big thing. You had to be 14 to get in, but it did close early. I think like 10 or 11 and then it turned over to a real club. However, my parents still never let me go.

  14. Well, you already know my views on The Duff :) I'm glad that you enjoyed it towards the end though, as it's never fun to completely dislike a book (at least for me).

    "... and I'm not even prude!"


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