by Kody Keplinger
published on September 7th, 2010 by HarperCollins
young adult | contemporary | romance
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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 ran into this one on Netgalley after having heard about it in passing earlier. The D.U.F.F. is sort of a candy book, the kind that I can really enjoy if I don’t think too hard about the plausibility or downsides. For example, is a perennial player like Wesley really going to settle down, in real life? Probably not, but his tete a tete with Bianca is satisfyingly bantery throughout the book. There are some iffy spots, but it’s a fun, sex positive summer read.
I was quite intrigued by the premise. Having felt very much like Bianca through much of high school and college, I was really able to connect with her insecurities and her guilty resentment. I think she’d be difficult for some people to like. She’s perpetually snarky, closed off, and cynical. So naturally I loved her. She feels like the ugly friend in the group, so being with Wesley is freeing. There are no strings, so she never has to worry if it’s real.
If you’ve ever seen a 90s teen movie, you’ll know what to expect. Bianca and Wesley’s casual arrangement becomes something deeper against their best efforts. Wesley listens to Bianca when she worries about her parents’ rocky marriage and her father’s drinking. He’s her escape from the real world. Bianca makes Wesley feel like more than just a rich playboy. There are plenty of “awww” moments and some surprisingly sexy scenes for a young adult book.
On the one hand, I loved that The D.U.F.F. talked about sex in a positive way. There’s some slut shaming early on, which made me cringe, but by the end, Bianca begins to recognize that the people called “sluts” are just people with their own kind of escape, no better or worse than anyone. I also loved Wesley because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t swoon over the reformed bad boy cliche? Their relationship was adorably love-hate.
I also loved Keplinger’s style. I know some reviewers have called it cynical and inaccessible. Maybe I’m just too much like Bianca to feel that way. I loved her cynicism and snark. She’s a pragmatist who wants love but fears it, who idealizes what she can’t have and discounts what she does have. Keplinger captures the high-brow sarcasm of teenage-hood with a delightful authenticity. She could have been plagiarizing my teenage brain.
On the other hand, I had some qualms with parts of it. First off, Wesley is the one that calls Bianca a DUFF. This word eats away at her self-esteem and haunts her through the book, yet he never fully apologizes or explains himself and she pretty much writes it off. Not cool. Second, Bianca really ditches her friends, which annoys me. However, she does get some backlash from said friends for this, so I’m glad that it’s at least addressed as a negative. But there’s the lingering impression that all you need to fix your life is a boy. Which…I mean…come on. Psh.
All in all, The D.U.F.F. is a fun read. In the vein of beloved 90s rom-coms like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You, it’s a hate-to-love romance with guilty pleasure swoons and plenty of snark. It takes a raw look at the insecurities of teenage girls in a way that I think will resonate with many readers who had or are having those same thoughts. Despite some rom-com trope-takeover, it’s an enjoyable read. I only wish that the movie didn’t completely destroy the plot.
I’m a font of useless knowledge and an endless source of sarcasm. Oh, and I guess I read, too.