Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Poppy (September 7, 2010)
Book summary: 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.
My review: Two contemporary YA novels I read recently have really blown me away. The first was Jessica Warman's Where the Truth Lies and now Kody Keplinger's The Duff. I devoured this book in one night. This story did what books are supposed to do: I forgot about my surroundings and was fully engrossed in this new world.
Bianca is given the dreaded "Duff" monikor by male slut and school hottie Wesley Rush one night while hanging at a teen club, The Nest. She keeps her hurt concealed but her drink does make its way onto his face and shirt. While Bianca easily voices her cynicism to friends and classmates, she keeps quiet at home while her family falls apart. She hasn't seen her mom, a traveling inspirational speaker and author, in three months. Bianca's nights with her dad are spent watching another family interact on Family Ties reruns, while avoiding the ghost of her mom.
During another club encounter with Wesley, who now calls her "Duffy," she kisses him, searching for the nearest escape route from life. This one passionate kiss leads to secret trysts with Wesley whenever she needs a 'fix' away from facing the latest family event. The topic of sex in YA is usually handled gingerly but not always realistically. Keplinger tackles this subject successfully, with humor and honesty.
The Duff surpasses the fictional reality scale. Keplinger nabs so much of what teen girls experience and feel during high school: low self esteem, jealousy of pretty girls, the need to find something to make one forget their problems. For some drugs, food, cutting, acting out or music provide an outlet. Bianca chooses fast, forgettable sex (the story's strength lies here--in thinking something is disposable when it turns into a life preserver, and then something entirely different). Thank you Ms. Keplinger for showing young girls can be lead by their libidos and don't have to be given demeaning and derogatory labels. When guys do it, they're called 'men' but when females do it they're sluts. Double standards, anyone? Bianca doesn't care for labels. But the novel isn't all about sex, it's about dealing with pain, honesty, communication, friendship, learning to comfortable in our skins, and the freedom to love irregardless of social standing or gossip.
The Duff is so strong in every area. The way the secondary characters act and speak make them refreshingly real. Bianca's parents are visible and don't disappear like some in YA. Her folks talk to her, make mistakes, and they're not afraid to apologize. Bianca's friends are fully fleshed, behave realistically, and don't pop up simply to fill in a scene. Nothing struck me as fake in this book.
Ultimately it is Bianca's voice which carries the novel--it's her story and I loved her snark, her one-liners, her ability to speak freely and to go after what she wants. She isn't perfect and we learn just how much she hurts and messes up throughout these 277 pages. Her use of Wesley and how her addiction to him turns into something true and powerful made this novel outstanding. I would recommend this title to older teens who don't mind F-bombs or casual sex scenes. The Duff is on the top of my favorite contemporary novels list of the year.
Favorite excerpt: Ok, Bianca and Wesley get my vote for best YA couple of 2010 (so far). Their scenes were sooo good, like this one from page 229 of the ARC.
""Don't lie," Wesley said. "You've been doing everything you can to stay away from me. You won't even look at me in class, and you practically sprint down the hallway if you see me coming. Even when you hated me, you didn't act like that. You might threaten to stab me, but you never--"
"I still hate you," I snarled up at him. "You're infuriating! You act like I owe you something. I'm sorry I made you worry, Wesley, but I just can't be around you anymore. You helped me escape from my problems for a while, and I appreciate that, but I have to face reality. I can't keep running away."
"But that is exactly what you're doing right now," Wesley hissed. "You're running away.""
Cover comment: The ARC cover is slightly different, kind of flat, but the model's eyes are striking (tying in with the mention of Bianca's eyes). The hard cover's picture is okay--the 'attitude' (through the use of gum) of this model is apparent--giving it an immediate pick me up off the shelf factor. I could do without the bubble and the matching eye shadow. I'd imagine Bianca smirking--that would symbolize her character.
Book source: We Love YA! tours