Book Review: The Duff
ashley | I cringe every time I read the title of The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger. I just hate the idea of girls being defined like that! High school is such a horrible place, writing a book about it doesn’t seem to help the situation any. But I had the impression that perhaps this might spawn a witty, rebellious character that demolishes the DUFF tagline, so that’s why I took a chance on it.
All my pre-emptive judgments about this book were pretty accurate. It’s your basic She’s All That, Cinderella, 10 Things I Hate About You “ugly” girl to swan princess all with the help of a hunky guy to raise her social status. It’s a terrible premise, but sometimes it can be fun and uplifting if it has a certain something to it.
The Duff’s certain something was Bianca. The titular character, Bianca embraced all the witty, rebellious, outsider charm I was hoping would overshadow everything I hate about high school. She’s been designated the DUFF, and it hurts, but what I love about her is that she still does her own thing, she’s still true to herself. Even when she’s interacting more with the popular guy she swears she hates, she’s not completely putting all her faith and individuality in the hands of someone else. She isn’t trying to change who she is or become something she’s not. There is no makeover scene (okay, there is, but it doesn’t really have to do with this popular guy). It’s her individuality, smarts and wit that draws him to her in the end, not anything else. That’s the thin line in this for me, whether she wavers from being herself or not, the thin line between this book making me really happy or really annoyed.
It also handles the concept of sex in a fairly positive light. I think a lot of people might be uncomfortable with the comfort in which sex is had and discussed in this book, but I like that it doesn’t walk on eggshells and it is pretty realistic when it comes to high school. I like that, for once, it doesn’t push the stupid nonsense that the “good kids” are good because they have no interest in sex. I like that Bianca wasn’t a virgin. It wasn’t smutty, it wasn’t overly descriptive, I think it was handled with a sense of class and I’m glad it was a large part of the book.
However, just as the term The Duff made me cringe, I was annoyed with how flippantly the word slut was tossed around. I know that’s a realistic dark side of high school, these labels and judgments, but I was hoping in this book, Bianca would be strong enough to not let it get under her skin and be smarter than to talk that way about her peers. She wasn’t. But there are some really touching moments with Bianca’s best friends and Wesley himself that kind of criticize this way of thinking, a way in which Keplinger can step in and shoot down all the stupid, ridiculous notions surrounding these tropes.
Bianca’s own self awareness reflecting onto an ostracized classmate at the end of the book gives power back to us girls who have grown up with these vicious labels and offers a comfort and lesson to those who are dealing with it now. That is exactly what I was hoping to get from this and I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. It was like that moment in Mean Girls when Tina Fey makes all the girls sit in the gym and raise their hand if they’d ever felt bullied or betrayed by another girl. I like those kinds of moments.
In the same fashion as She’s All That or 10 Things, I found myself rooting for the cliché couple in the end. I found myself happy that the bad boy reined in his carnal interests and put himself out there to win over the girl he previously insulted by endlessly referring to her as The Duff. I rooted for her to ditch the smart, witty, gentleman she had been in like with for years, in favour of this womanizing jerk who charmed the pants off her. I’m a sucker for the bad boy, too. I’m a cliché too. And this book, it has its flaws, but it’s a quick and satisfying romp, a nice distraction from your everyday worries and frustrations. And when the movie comes out, like all the chick flick movies before it, I’ll watch it with a bowl of popcorn and wrap myself in that big warm and fuzzy feeling in the end.