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7 Apr 2012

Review - 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 “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 realises with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

While the term 'duff' wasn't something I heard or used in high school I can look back to high school and remember feeling like a duff.  Bianca herself was an easy character to relate to.  Of course I felt less attractive than my friends.  And some outsiders were happy to tell me so as well.  I remember being cynical and naive, thinking that looks were the only things that mattered in relationships.  Funnily enough none of my friends were ever asked on dates with the boys in our year but I still thought they were more attractive than me.  Due to that I did have that 'fuck you' attitude to relationships, Valentine's Day etc.  I understood Bianca's feelings.  I knew why she turned her nose up at PDA and Valentine's Day.  Her reactions and bitter attitude were realistic and made sense.  I didn't feel her loathing was over the top.  It's a normal consequence of attending a very shallow place.  High school is a breeding ground for insecurities.  And Kody Keplinger did well to show that, not just in Bianca but in all her characters.  The main ones and the minor characters:

Bianca: Called the duff and starts to compare herself constantly to her two best friends.
Casey: Constantly seen by Bianca as a tall, blonde and beautiful cheerleader.  But Casey herself is insecure about her height.
Jessica: Again seen as tall, blonde and beautiful.  Yet started high school as a shy girl being bullied and used by older girls. 
Wesley: Has only befriended a gay teen because he doesn't want competition over girls with other boys.  It suggests that he's afraid a girl will reject him for another male friend if he had any despite his good looks.
Unnamed freshman: Experiencing the same bullying and treatment as Jessica did. 

It's a lesson that Bianca slowly learns throughout the novel.  That she isn't the only one with insecurities and she's not alone in disliking her looks.  It happens to every single teenager around her, even the ones who she considers beautiful. 

What I admired most about Keplinger's writing is how she isn't afraid to discuss sexuality and write about teenagers having sex, showing the positive and negatives aspects of these decisions teenagers make.  Bianca's made decisions in the past that have left her feeling regret and hurt but also happier and finding someone she wants to be with.  It's not a book that's glamourising teenage sex or preaching abstinence.  It's a book where sex just happens and it can be a positive or negative experience.  There can be consequences or happy results.  Exactly how the issue should be handled so kudos to Kody Keplinger.

At the beginning I did worry that the characters weren't going to be very rounded.  Jessica's character was built up quite slowly so at the beginning so she didn't seem very complex at the start.  She was a little ditzy and in the background most of time while a close friendship was built between Casey and Bianca instead.  But gradually more of Jessica's background and personality came through and there was reasons for her personality. 

Toby was one character that didn't seem to work well with the others.  I did feel his sole purpose was to be the Anti-Wesley and wasn't a character in his own right.  He did come across as the perfect, nice guy which there's nothing wrong with but even those who seem flawless have flaws.  I would have liked to have seen more sides to Toby. 

Wesley had his different sides, which I liked.  He had his troubles and insecurities and his close relationships - to his sister, to his only best friend Harrison and, at times, to Bianca.  While I hate arrogance and prefer Mr Nice Guy I could see why Bianca kept returning to him.  She could be herself around him, open up, and sometimes their personalities matched.  Bianca had to learn who, in the end, was right for her.  Nice guy Toby who made the effort or Arrogant Wesley who listened.  It was important for her to choose who she believed she was better suited to and she did. 

Overall, I think this a is must-have book for any teenager with insecurities.  Pick it up, read it and know that these worries are being shared with a million other teenagers around the world.  That popular girl who seems like such a stuck up bitch? Her parents may be divorcing.  That jock who doesn't seem all that intelligent and shallow? Sports may be the only thing he's knows he's good at and he achieves things through it.  That girl who sleeps around and wears too much make-up? She just wants to feel attractive.  Yeah, you probably don't like them and these people have been rude to you but at least you know you're not alone.


  1. I really enjoyed that book too! The characters were very well developed and I have to say I had a little crush for the bad boy - probably because Toby is as you very well point out not as layered as all the other ones.
    The story was honest in its writing and in its plot. :D I have to pick up SHUT OUT very soon!

  2. Gonna pick that one up too! Unfortunately I'll have to wait a bit. Shut Out won't be available in England for a few more months.