Book Review | The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger

Published by Poppy on September 7, 2010

Genres: Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Format: eARC

Source: NetGalley


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.

I went into The DUFF not knowing what to expect. Reviews from my Goodreads friends are all over the map, but when I got the opportunity to review the book in celebration of the movie being released, I was excited to dive right in. Unfortunately, while The DUFF was a quick and easy read for me, it is not one that I enjoyed much at all. I have a lot to discuss, so let’s begin with my thoughts on Bianca, the book’s first-person narrator.

Bianca is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever encountered. While I can understand that she is going through a lot in her teenage life, with her parents’ relationship failing and with her being labeled the DUFF by one of the most popular guys in school, her negative attitude really got to me. It was horrible for Wesley to call Bianca the DUFF, but Bianca bullies him just as much, if not more. She’s constantly telling him how despicable he is and saying how much she hates him. This negativity was annoying to me as a reader, and didn’t make me want to root for Bianca. Instead, I wished she would just grow up and stop being so horrible to everyone around her. The fact that Bianca constantly lied to everyone around her, including her best friends and family, only made me despise her even more.

Moreover, even getting past the protagonist’s many faults, the writing of The DUFF was lackluster as well. I found the dialogue to be quite awkward, with characters speaking long passages to each other. It was unrealistic, and really hyped up the teenage melodrama I felt while reading.

Similarly, this is one of those novels where all of the serious issues discussed throughout the story somehow wrapped up nicely with a big bow to tie everything together. In order to avoid spoilers I will not explain this critique much more. However, as an example, Bianca’s father relapses in an addiction he has struggled with for years, and seemingly gets over it instantaneously. Not only did this scene in particular rub me the wrong way (it gives young readers the idea that addiction is just a quick sickness that can be overcome in a day), but when I put it together with all the other aspects of this book that worked out perfectly in the end, it was quite damaging to the book’s credibility.

I was also very shocked with the content of this book. The DUFF is labeled as young adult, but it is definitely new adult. There is obscene language in the entirety of the book (I think the F word is Keplinger’s favorite), and there are several explicit sex scenes. While there was nothing wrong with the subject matter of the novel per se, I felt very uncomfortable thinking that so many young people have read this book and loved it. This book takes place in a high school with a protagonist who is only 17-years-old. I would feel much differently if the story played out between adults, and not between young people who are on the borderline of being able to legally consent.

In the same way, while I appreciate that The DUFF is taking on a “girl power” attitude, the feminism portrayed in the novel was quite unsettling. I whole heartedly agree that women should not be called sluts and whores, but while this book celebrates womanhood, it does so at the expense of bashing men. Male gender roles are completely upheld (in fact, there is a line commenting on how all teenage boys are obsessed with sex), and the author suggests that it’s okay to call Wesley a manwhore. This double standard was very aggravating, and not what I would want today’s youth to read. This is true with The DUFF’s moral, if you will, at the end of the story, though I will hold off on critiquing that in the interest of not spoiling the ending.

Finally, I want to quickly mention some of the serious issues brushed over in this novel that are clearly present yet not flushed-out. First, Bianca is clearly going through some mental anguish and needs to talk about her issues with a professional. Her obsessive clothes-folding routine and several comments regarding how “messed up” she is leads the reader to the conclusion that there is something wrong that needs to be addressed in ways other than casual sex. Unfortunately, we never see Bianca reach out for that help. In addition, I was very disappointed with the flippant comments marginalizing suicide in this book. Suicide is a serious issue that should never be used as a joke.

Overall, I’m not sure that I would recommend The DUFF to anyone, as I find it inappropriate for its target, young adult audience, and anyone older would probably not enjoy it. If you’re a contemporary lover who doesn’t mind some teenage angst and friends-with-benefits relationships, perhaps you’ll give The DUFF a try. Otherwise, it’s fine to go without reading this popular book. I don’t think you need to worry about missing out on anything!

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