Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

4 Stars. (Young Adult)

The DUFF by Kodi Keplinger was a really cute read. The snarky attitude of the narrator was fresh and oddly endearing – although I will admit that there were times when I wished Bianca could have been a little less cynical. I mean she is only seventeen years old and up to the point where the story begins, nothing too serious has happened in her life to make her so jaded about life and love. Her parent’s relationship is dysfunctional and she expects they will divorce, so I suppose having witnessed their relationship she could have lost her faith in love but the truth is, when their relationship is finally shown it is clear her dad worships her mom and that they had a pretty good relationship until like many relationships things just didn’t work anymore. I guess all that is to say that although the voice of the narrator is funny and engaging and unique in snark value, it is also a bit inexplicable given the narrators overall experience of life. She’s a straight A student, has really good friends, enjoys school and has a sweet relationship with her dad. Things seemed to be pretty good for Bianca, I would have understood more if everything that transpired throughout the novel had been to blame for her attitude, but it is clear that she was already semi-bitchy when the book starts. Anyway, that wasn’t a huge downside. I really liked the overall story. Bianca definitely had her funny moments and I laughed out loud during several scenes. Wesley, although a complete a** in the beginning of the book, is also very sweet and caring and makes you love him even as you hate him. He has some very endearing qualities that make you wish you knew the kid – he loves his sister, admits to not having many friends except one guy, which makes him both charming and vulnerable at the same time. He’s funny, has a quick sense of humour, and most of all accepts Bianca the whole way through the book. He finds ever bit of her unique and loveable and although Bianca insists that a pretty boy, playboy like Wesley could never care about the DUFF: Designated, Ugly, Fat, Friend – he does. So, Wesley in all his bravado is the one to name Bianca the DUFF, but that doesn’t mean he’s one of the mean guys who makes fun of the less than perfect girls in school. He mostly means the insult as a stupid joke – its part of his fa├žade and when Bianca uses him as a way to forget and escape the confines of her crumbling family, Wesley is more than willing to help her out. He never once rejects her or makes her feel ashamed that they’re basically doing the enemies-with-benefits thing. He doesn’t make her feel insecure about what she preserves as her flaws, if anything Wesley is the one who helps Bianca realize that she’s just as pretty, sweet, and wanted as her beautiful friends. Their relationship was a really funny and cute one and really surprised me at times with the tenderness. These two help one another face reality and speak out against the things that are falling apart in their families. Once sworn enemies, they realize that they have quite a bit more in common than they could have imagined.

The one downside to all this is that there are moments that I really wish had been expanded to show a bit more depth. It’s true that they help each other and become stronger, but I wanted to see more of the conversations they shared. It’s mentioned that they spend entire afternoon and evenings together playing pool or scramble or having sex, but readers never really get to see the conversations that impact their relationship. You know these two are getting closer, but I wanted more meaningful dialogue to show it. There is one day where both their secret home lives come out and that was a good moment of honesty between Wesley and Bianca, but it’s one of the only ones. I needed more to show me that they were having such an impact on one another to warrant the ending. Bianca also needed to get a clue where her friends were concerned. She’s all surprised towards the end when her best friend Casey gets mad and starts to pull away from her, even though the entire book Bianca refuses to really tell her friend anything about what’s happening in her life. It isn’t just Wesley, but the big family shake ups that are rearranging her life that she refuses to spill. I understood Casey’s frustration and ultimate anger towards Bianca and thought that Bianca needed to get a clue. She was surprised when her friend confronted her and I kept asking myself why she was shocked.

My only other gripe is that Bianca focuses way too much on being a DUFF. It’s a word! It only has meaning if you let it and Bianca, who is otherwise secure and confident and not ugly or fat, according to everyone else around her should have let it go after about the sixth or seventh time she and Wesley got together. Instead, she spent the whole book convincing herself that someone like Wesley couldn’t possibly fall for someone like her when HELLO he clearly cares and HELLO he wouldn’t have stood up for her the way he did when she needed someone if he didn’t care – let alone keep sleeping with her and hanging out with her even when they didn’t sleep together. I know how easy it is for all us girls to convince ourselves in moments of weakness that we just aren’t good enough, but I guess it’s more irritating when you read it in a book and realize the stupidity of the way we tear ourselves down and knit pick at the slightest flaw. The lesson Bianca ultimately learns is that no one is perfect; each and every one of us, at some point in our lives has been a DUFF. It can break us apart of make us stronger, but that’s the choice that’s ours.

An impressive debut by author Kody Keplinger, especially since this girl is only 18 years old! That’s a great accomplishment. I think what made Bianca seem so real is that Keplinger has recently been in that teen world and having just exited it within the past 5 years, I know what a bubble high school can be. UGH.

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