Review of “The Duff” by Kody Keplinger

At a dance club with her friends, seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper finds out, from the “man-whore” Wesley Rush, that she is known as the “Duff” – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend – vis-a-vis her two BFFs Casey and Jessica. Wesley tells her this by way of asking her help to hook up with her hot friends. As Wesley explains:

“‘Hey, don’t get defensive. It’s not like you’re an ogre or anything, but in comparison…” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Think about it. Why do they bring you here if you don’t dance?”

Wesley is everything Bianca hates: he is, she thinks, “the most disgusting womanizing playboy to ever darken the doorstep of Hamilton high . . . but he was kind of hot.” After Wesley explains that girls find it “sexy” when guys “socialize with the Duff” and by talking to her he is doubling his chances of getting laid, she throws her coke all over him, calling him a “disgusting, shallow, womanizing jackass…” and a “self-absorbed son of a bitch.”

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Bianca wasn’t unaffected by the insult, and brooded over this new revelation that she was thought of as “The Duff” even though she couldn’t believe she was worried about “such stupid, pointless, shallow bullshit.” But she wasn’t as invulnerable as she wished, and she did obsess over it.

And that wasn’t all that was worrying Bianca. Her mother kept taking longer and longer trips, and her father was getting more and more upset. He used to be an alcoholic, and Bianca was scared he would relapse. She desperately needed her own distraction, and the next time Wesley approached her at the dance club, she lunged at him and kissed him fiercely, a kiss he returned just as passionately. Then his hand traveled over her body, and she shoved him away, slapping him. But she couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss.

Nevertheless, Bianca managed to avoid Wesley until their English teacher made them partners for writing an analysis of The Scarlet Letter. She said he could come to her house, but in the interim, her dad got served with divorce papers and went on a drinking binge. The house was littered with broken bottles, so Bianca called Wesley and said she would go to his place instead. They talked briefly about Hester Prynne in the book, and it occurred to Bianca that Hester slept with Dimmesdale because she needed distraction, and that seemed like a pretty good strategy to Bianca. She turned to Wesley and kisses him, and before long they were having sex:

“I might have hated Wesley Rush, but he held the key to my escape, and at that moment I wanted him . . . I needed him.”

And of course, as things get worse for Bianca at home, she finds she needs the diversion of sex with Wesley more and more. Bianca is upfront that all she wants from Wesley is “distraction,” but as the liaison continues – free of artifice and with occasional moving forays into deeply honest communication – it inevitably changes, and so do Bianca and Wesley.

Discussion: There is plenty of sex (albeit safe) and “language” in this story, but it feels quite authentic, and the heart of the story isn’t actually about sex at all. Rather, it delves into issues of self-image and sources of self-esteem, as well as the need for authenticity and being true to oneself.

But the relationship between Bianca and Wesley makes a very good story by itself, even without the other plot elements. Ironically, by the end, I liked Wesley a whole lot more than Bianca. But Bianca is still a good character: she is fighting a whole lot of demons, and has a lot of lessons to learn, some of which take her a really long time, and some of which she never does really get. But that felt real as well.

Evaluation: This is a good book with a commendable ending that I would recommend to anyone who doesn’t have objections to high school sex and “language.” (I know many adults do have such objections, but I believe all that means is that they haven’t been around high schoolers, or honest high schoolers, lately.)

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011

Note: The author wrote this when she was 17 and it was published when she was 19. The film adaptation, starring Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, and Ken Jeong, was released on February 20, 2015.

You can watch a trailer for the movie below.

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7 Responses to Review of “The Duff” by Kody Keplinger

  1. I haven’t read the book. But I have to say, even as a 65-year old man, I thought the movie was absolutely terrific. And it sounds like it was true to the book.

  2. Ti says:

    I heard the movie was pretty good. Gosh, high school can be so hard. My daughter enters junior high next year. At orientation, in the parking lot she looked like a little baby face but as soon as we entered the gym, she stood up like 2 inches taller and adopted a swagger to her walk. No kidding. She looked like she was about 16 when she did that.

  3. Belle Wong says:

    Yes, high school can be so tough. I’ve seen this book around but didn’t really feel any urge to read it. I’m thinking now I might!

  4. Beth F says:

    You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school. I wasn’t really going to read this, but, well, maybe.

  5. Rachel says:

    Ugh – high school. Is the book funny? The movie trailer looks like the movie is kind of a goofy teenie bopper movie.

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    I saw the movie preview and love Mae Whitam but thought the movie looked lame. But now I’m wondering if I wouldn’t end up liking it. The movie not the book, sorry 🙂

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