The Duff by Kody Keplinger

duff-kody-keplinger1The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger, first published in 2010 py Poppy (Hachette).

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Source: publisher via Netgalley (thank you, Hachette, for providing me with a free e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review).

Genre: YA contemporary.

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper may not be the prettiest girl in her high school, but she has a loyal group of friends, a biting wit, and a spot-on BS detector. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. But things aren’t so great at home and Bianca, desperate for a distraction, 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. (Goodreads)


My rating: 4/5.

Before I ever knew about the book, I saw the movie trailer for The Duff movie that’s out in cinemas now. It seemed like an interesting teenage comedy so I jumped at the chance to read the book first.

I was not disappointed. The Duff is a funny story to be sure, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it’s much more than that. Bianca is an average teenage girl with average teenage problems that take a turn for the worse when her mom files for divorce and her dad starts drinking again. In search of distraction, she kisses the one person she shouldn’t be kissing, the playboy Wesley. As much as she wants to keep things casual between them, her emotions keep getting in the way.

So you see, this could have been a cliché enemies-to-lovers story, but it isn’t. Bianca acts like a teenager but for once I wasn’t bothered by her often naive and silly expectations – she’s the real deal and actually learns from her mistakes, thinks about her options and emotions, and is a really well-rounded character. She’s sarcastic to the point of being rude, she’s sometimes prickly as a cactus, and is afraid to care too much. Wesley, who’s your typical manwhore/jock (which is one of the over-used romance tropes I usually dislike), is also a layered individual, against all expectations. And that’s what makes this seem so real: there are no one-aspect, cardbord people in the real world and Kody Keplinger seems to have gotten that right, unlike many other contemporary YA/NA writers.

Another thing I really liked was the casual attitude towards teenage sexuality. First of all, Bianca and Wesley have a lot of sex which is in no way bad – Bianca’s not a virgin (and neither is Wesley, of course), and as much as she feels “dirty” after having a no-strings-attached sex fling with someone she dislikes, it’s more due to the fact that she doesn’t like him than the sex. Bianca also thinks about slut-shaming a lot, and Keplinger managed to problematize this issue wonderfully in her novel.

But as much as Bianca and Wesley’s relationship is the main focus of the story, it comes about because of other issues in Bianca’s life, which was refreshing – what I want to say here is that I loved the fact that Bianca has a life beyond Wesley (she actually tries to keep him as far away from her personal things as possible). She has two amazing friends who not only have her back but fight with her and she has a dysfunctional family in which she might just be the only real adult. To be honest, I shouldn’t have to be surprised that a story about teenagers features these but so often the romantic aspect takes over the entire story, which is totally uncool, especially because teenage relationships very, very rarely last for a lifetime.

I’d recommend The Duff if you’re searching for a fun, light novel with a kernel of the real deal. It got me thinking about how we, the women in our society, think and talk about ourselves and each other (because slut-shaming and gossiping certainly doesn’t end with high school). I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and I’ve really been trying to change my ways.


Have you read The DUFF? What did you think? 

Would you recommend it to teenagers? Or to adults as well?

  • YAY so much agreement! I think I mentioned this on GR, but this was actually the first book that I read that even mentioned the idea of slut shaming…my mind was totally blown. And I loved the fact that Bianca’s girls are such an integral element of the story. It always makes me kind of uncomfortable when a romantic interest has no friends (although I think this happens more for male characters in YA than it does for female characters). I also remember Bianca’s dad as being very cool – and insane, like most dads!

    • Kaja

      Yesyesyes. I have no idea what to think about AUTHORS who write teenage characters without friends. So sad.
      Well, Bianca’s dad is a recovering alcoholic, so there’s a problem. He’s cool and loves her but there’s a part where she’s the only one who’s got her shit together…

  • First of all, love your new commenting system, I totally thought about having Disqus when I started my blog, but for whatever reason decided not to.

    Now on to the book, I’m glad you enjoyed it, I liked the genuine teenage tone to it. I enjoyed reading it because it felt real, a lot more genuine than some books I’ve read that approach the same kind of issue. It does get you thinking about how girls and women view each other, too often it can feel like we’re in competition which is dead stupid because that is the worst think that can happen, but it happens at every age. And I’m with you, it was great reading a book where Bianca has a whole other life she is dealing with outside of her relationship drama, and I think seeing her family issues made me like this book so much more because you got where Bianca was coming from.

    Have you read any of Keplinger’s other books? A Midsummer’s Nightmare is another good book from her if you get a chance to read it.

    • Thanks! My previous commenting system was forever making trouble (plus the maths really bothered EVERYONE – even I had to do them to sign in, imagine doing that at 5 am) so this change was long overdue. I’m still getting used to it but I like it so far.

      Yes, I agree, the tone was perfect for such a story! I haven’t read any other books by Keplinger, I really only heard about her because of the movie. Thanks for the recommendation! :)
      Yep, competition among women … it’s present *all the time*. And it’s horrible! Most of the time, it’s even really pointless because there’s really nothing to compete about – it’s just plain nastiness. Eh. I’m trying to break myself of the habit but it’s really hard.