There are some books that are so predictable there’s no use in reading them at all. But gosh darn it, the narrator has such a natural, charming, authentic voice that you need to read in to learn how her story ends. Such is the voice of Bianca Piper, the protagonist of the YA “classic,” The DUFF.
I say “classic” in quotes because this book seemed to have strong but fleeting success. I remember learning about the word “duff” when the 2015 movie came out, and the premise sounded like something you would watch when you’re done with Juno or Mean Girls. It’s not quite as groundbreaking or charming as those two stories, but I digress.
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper learns from her school’s designated playboy, Wesley Rush, that she is the supposed “duff” (designated ugly fat friend) of her group. This blow comes shortly before Bianca’s parents divorce and her father regresses into drinking again. Despite her hatred for designating her the “duff,” Bianca decides to use Wesley’s penchant for loose sex to escape her home troubles, only to soon realize that she is falling in love with him. But how can a “duff” have a relationship with a loose cannon?
Like I said, this book is almost as cliche young adult as they come. You have the cynical outsider getting into an accidental romance with the cocky playboy, which is ripe for teenage drama that pretty much hits all the notes. Said playboy also has a hidden heart of gold underneath his bravado, not to mention a troubled, broken household of his own, because how else can he relate to the “duff”?
That does not mean that the book is not enjoyable. Bianca has a distinctly teenage voice and she feels like someone you would attend high school with. She is mature, but still a kid who doesn’t always have the answers. Watching her witness her parents’ divorce and her father regressing into alcoholism makes you want to wrap the girl in a hug (though she’d sooner kill you than let you hug her).
It’s also quite sexually explicit. The characters are older teenagers, but you see the complete picture of their sexual escapades, which I was a little unprepared for. But I did not mind it, really. It acts as a leeway to some interesting parallels that Bianca draws between Hester from The Scarlet Letter and Cathy from Wuthering Heights. Much like those two characters, Bianca uses sex to escape her troubles and eventually has to choose between two different people to love.
Don’t worry, it’s not a Fifty Shades of Grey kind of explicit. Just enough that you know these teenagers are going all the way and have no shame in experimenting with pleasure.
I should also give author Kody Keplinger some credit for writing such a compelling story when she was just a teenager herself. I’ve read a few other books by teenage authors, and Keplinger far outranks them in character, dialogue, story, and overall talent. I’m glad to see she is still writing today and hope she keeps going strong.
Honestly, though, not a lot differentiates The DUFF from other teen rom-coms. It’s still charming and has a great heroine, but it does have some corny lines about what it means to be a “duff.” There was nothing I particularly hated about this book, nor anything I really loved. It was a nice way to pass the time and now I guess it’s time to move onto the next one.