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.