I Don’t Know What I Expected But It Wasn’t That: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

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the duff by kody keplinger

This is what I get for knowing the summary–just the summary–of a book’s movie adaptation before I get into reading the source material. It seemed like, through no fault of the author, every other turn of a page brought me further from what I’d expected of the novel and toward something surprising, scandalous, and altogether satisfying. So in case you, like I, have a misconception about Kody Keplinger’s The Duff, allow me to enlighten you.

Bianca Piper has just been informed by the novel’s resident jackass, Wesley Rush, that she’s the “Duff” of her friend group–the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, whose purpose in the eyes of the aforementioned jackass and guys like him is to help boost the appeal of the more attractive girls around her and to garner their sympathy when he talks to her. After this revelation, Bianca finds her life becoming a mess, and her only distraction is in the “enemies-with-benefits” relationship she impulsively strikes up with…the jackass.

I was taken aback as I read the first couple of chapters because–fair warning if you were planning on handing this to your child under fifteen or so–the book turned out to have way more swearing and sex than I was used to in a young adult novel. Even though I’m not opposed to those things, I was caught off guard at first. Once I got used to this ultimately refreshing and arguably realistic style to the novel, I felt like I slipped easily into the rest of Bianca’s world. In fact, while I couldn’t relate too all of the wild teen sex of the novel, I definitely had a mouth like Bianca’s when I was her age, so it lent credence to the story, in my opinion.

I like to read the author bios at the end of books, and reading Keplinger’s I learned that she wrote The Duff while she was in her senior year of school, and while it’d be easy to write this book off as a teen writer’s whimsical effort and to claim that inexperience was a detriment to the novel, that wasn’t the case here at all. As it happens, this is something that I think benefited the veracity of the novel. Keplinger wasn’t writing with that disconnect that some adults can have when they’re writing for young adults and teens, so while it could give a youthfulness to the style of the writing, it didn’t drag down the story in anyway. It wasn’t messy or overwrought; Keplinger’s novel touches on a number of important factors and issues in a teen’s life and does so in a way that doesn’t make them feel slapdash or detached from one another.

Keplinger features significant issues–family problems, crumbling self-confidence, rocky friendships–throughout the story, and she does so in a heartfelt, honest way. There’s no talking down to the reader, no saccharine moments (not with sharp-tongued Bianca as the narrator), and no drawn out love triangle–even if Bianca does have her eye on two boys at times. There’s just a story with heart that tugged at my own as I read.

I laughed. I cried. I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

March 10, 2017
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  • I honestly wrote this book/movie off from the summary alone, but I’m glad to hear it was satisfying! Maybe I’ll give it another look.

    • I really think that if I had read the summary on the back of the book before checking it out, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. It really doesn’t do justice to the story as a whole. And from what I’ve heard, the movie is really different from the book, so I’m planning on checking that out at some point, too. (Bella Thorne’s character on the book cover was written solely for the movie! It confused me so much as I was reading.)

      • Ack, that sounds nuts. Ok, I need to put this back on my radar then.

  • Totally agree! I had no idea she wrote it while in school! It makes a lot of sense that she was a teen writing about a teen’s life because the story and writing feels very authentic. Adults writing for teens try to capture what it’s like to be a teen and always miss the mark because it’s always changing. Great review!

    • Agreed! When adults write about teens, they’re writing from the adult perspective, which I think can even be *too* informed because they have a big picture view from experience, so it can’t always bring you into the authentic experience anymore. You don’t get the immediacy and intensity of the emotional roller coaster that is adolescence.

  • Celia

    I absolutely loved this book when I first read it. It was refreshing to read something that I believe is realistic. It dealt with body image, and other issues quite well – very authentic. I also enjoyed that Bianca enjoyed having sex, and was as honest with what she was seeking. I liked the movie (because I enjoy silliness), but it is completely different from the book.

    • Yes! I totally agree! Despite the circumstances, I think overall it’s such a positive portrayal of female sexuality. “Authentic” is the perfect word for it. It didn’t try to pander to readers or gloss over/soften any of the topics it dealt with, and I love that.

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