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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Amazon | Goodreads
343 pages
Published April 5th 2012 by Hodder Children's Books - UK (first published September 7th 2010, US)
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.

This book took me by surprise. I went into it expecting to like it - it was one of the very few contemporary novels of last year that I actually actively wanted, the reviews were just that good. But even though I expected to enjoy it and get something out of it, I didn't expect for it to keep me up all night. I didn't expect for it to be the type of book that I wanted to just flip back to the beginning and start again once I'd finished. I didn't expect it to make me uncomfortable and empathetic, and cringey and butterfly-stomached.
But where to begin?

If you watched my May Rewind video, you'll know that I was a bitter bitch in high school. (And if you went to high school with me, well, you already knew that. Sorry.) Reading Bianca made me so uncomfortable because she is a bitter bitch and I could relate. She's so bitter and hurting and unsure-but-pretending-she's-fine. She's so me, she's so us, that it was hard to read at times. We're all thankful to leave high school for a reason, right? We're so ready to leave our high school emotions and our high school selves behind, and reading Bianca brought that back. Her complete shock at being called a "DUFF" (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Wesley, and the way it worms into her brain, on top of all of the other, normal crappy teenage stuff she has to go through, just felt so true and so achingly pitch-perfect that it made it difficult to read at times. Everything she does is a front, and you just want so badly to get at the real Bianca, the smart, sassy, potentially-confident girl woman you know is in there, underneath all of her acid-tongued bitchiness. She's sometimes downright unlikable as a narrator because of it, and maybe more so because you can relate, and that's scary.

But the beautiful thing about her is that she grows. And that godawful jackass that is Wesley grows, and before you know it, she's not such a bitter bitch, and he's not such a godawful jackass anymore. These are dynamic characters, my friends, and man, I love it when that happens. There's such a great reversal of characters, and they had such believable emotions and reactions, that I couldn't help but love this and be impressed by it. And honestly, the fact that it made me so uncomfortable (that I identified with it the way I did) says a lot about Keplinger's talent for characterization and authenticity, and I appreciate that. It also just has a great gut-feel. If you think about this, you know what I mean. There are those books that just make you physically feel something; your reaction is visceral, whether it be butterflies or tension or a pounding heart, or whatever. That type of reaction is a big deal to me (and most readers, I think).

This may be potentially... triggering, I guess, for some. Not in a serious trauma way, but Bianca's self-destructiveness (and really, Wesley's, too) may make others feel uncomfortable in a way completely different from my relating to Bitchy Bianca. The mindlessness of what Bianca does may bother some people, too, but it felt very realistic and painful to me, and 1000x accurate. And I think the way it's all presented ended up working for me, and will probably work well for most people - though those who are sexytimes-squeamish should probably pick up a different book.

But if that doesn't bother you, and you're willing to be made a bit uncomfortable, I can't think of a better book to do it; I talk about douchebags and bitches in YA and how that can be really risky, but in this case, it's not glorified. Everything's muddied and hard and feels much more real for it. And despite the fact that Bianca goes for Wesley (despite the obvious OH HELLS NO factor) and eventually falls for him, she doesn't take his shit and she doesn't lick his boots, and that makes a hell of a difference in how receptive I'll be. His douchebaggery is used to show how someone's thoughtless actions can really change your view of yourself and your confidence. And Bianca's closed-off bitchiness shows how easy it is to shelter yourself so well that you deprive yourself of anything good.  What makes it so great - and something I know I will reread - is that they both had these issues, these self-destructive tendencies, failings, etc., that made them work together. They were really good complements to each other, and without each other, they probably would have went on as they were.

Which brings me to my middle-of-the-book/night realization: this book is SO retold Pride and Prejudice. I don't remember when I realized this, and I don't know if it's been commented on before, but seriously - this is an ultra-modern, pared-down P&P. We've got the vivacious and stubborn girl, the rich, handsome, aloof and assholey guy, and then all of this glorious tension and misunderstanding, leading up to the realization that they're perfect for each other. It's a story that never gets old, that works on every level - it's my favorite story for a reason. And The Duff definitely uses that. I was so, so very pleasantly surprised by this layer, I think I actually cackle-giggled when it hit me. But the less said about that, the better...

So really, if you haven't already, and I haven't convinced you, what more can I say to get you to pick this up? It's funny. It's quick. It's dynamic. It's very modern while avoiding some of the pitfalls of contemporary. It's relatable and somehow still universal. Mostly, though, I just liked the way it made me feel. Like, physically feel. The good and the bad, the uncomfortable and the exhilarating, it's a book you feel while you read, and that's huge to me.  The biggest compliment I can pay it is that I know I will reread it, and this I will reread. Absolutely, without a doubt.


  1. Wonderful review! I read this last summer and loved it...been meaning to read Kody's other book for FOREVER now and now she has a third, so I'm two books behind. Regardless, it was wonderful and I loved that the characters were real and flawed.


  2. Excellent review. I still need to read this one.

  3. Wow, I hadn't realized it, but you're totally right: this is a Pride and Prejudice retelling! He even tells her she's not pretty enough for him!
    I loved the book, too. Read it three times already, and maybe I'll read it again.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This review deserves a round of applause. You absolutely nail why I love this book!

  6. I love your review! I read and reviewed this awhile back but yours kicks my review's ass! Haha.

    A few different times I remembering shuddering because it brought back terrifying high school memories. But I loved it! I was also a bitter bitch in high school so I know exactly what you mean!

    Anyways, great review!

  7. Brilliant review, I saw this at the used bookstore yesterday, and my butt is now sore from how hard I am kicking it from not buying it!!!

  8. I've already wanted to read this for a long time and this review just makes me want to read it more. I'm all for a contemp that can make me feel stuff and it sounds like The DUFF just might have what it takes. Great review.

  9. I've heard so many awesome things about this book - really need to get my hands on a copy! Great Review!

  10. I kind of ignored this book, as I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary YA books. But then I watched your May Rewind video where you mentioned it's P&P retold and I thought it might be interesting. But after reading your review, I really want to read this book. :)

  11. I would love to read this one. Thsnks for the review. I have heard such good things about this one. I actually loved High School. I would still be there if they didn't make me leave after 4 years. LOL

  12. The way you talk about this book it makes me what to read it. You always make this impression on me and most of the books I have bought recently it's because you said they were great. So, yeah, I am definitely going to read this one :)

  13. I've seen this book around for awhile and wondered about it. Parts of my hs days were horrible and I'm not sure I want to go back to those feeling! Glad to hear she grows. That makes a story so much stronger.

  14. I want this book so badly.. I keep putting off buying it because I have so many books to read but I'd love to win this one!

  15. I was a similar kind of person in high school as well. There aren't many books that dictate that experience, at least not that I have found. The Duff definitely sounds like a must read.

  16. Would love to read this. My sister have already read it and she loves it

  17. In high school, I said the phrase "I'm not a bitch, I'm blunt." QUITE OFTEN. Sounds like maybe I'll identify with Bianca a little too. I've been curious about reading this one, but after reading your review I feel like I MUST read it, more so than any of her other two books so far. Plus, um, a modern (if unintentional) P&P? Yep, I'm in.

  18. Misty, you basically shot this review right out of the ballpark. While The DUFF wasn't my favorite book ever, I like a lot of the points you make -- especially about how Bianca isn't a bootlicker and how she's kind of a bitch and how Wesley is an ass and how they are self-destructive and imperfect.

    Also? Brilliant call on the P&P comparison.

  19. I don't read a lot of YA but this one sounds really intresting. I love Pride and Prejudice so maybe this will work for me.

  20. Cannot wait to get my hands on this book after reading this review. must. get.it.soon.

  21. This is so exactly how I feel. I've totally been the DUFF, and I wasn't sure how I would feel about the book, but I was totally blown away. Bianca is the kind of girl that I feel doesn't show up often enough in YA. She doesn't put up with anyone else's bullshit. That doesn't mean she doesn't do stupid shit herself (she super does), but she owns it and doesn't blame anyone else.

    And, you're right, that is the basic P&P story, which only makes me love it more. Even the scene where he hits on her at the bar in the beginning totally meshes with the dance! Because of P&P, I've always had a serious jones for stories where the love interests hate each other at first. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work out like I was hoping (Avatar, for example...Zuuko and Katara clearly belonged together!!!).


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