The DUFF (Designated.Ugly.Fat.Friend.) is the first novel by Kody Keplinger. She was 18 when this was first published! How exciting!
Bianca Piper is a senior in High School and her friends are very pretty. She HATES Wesley Rush (our requisite Hot Guy with a Bad Reputation). At some teenager-club, Wesley tells Bianca the she is the Duff in her group (see above) and if her (very pretty) friends see him talking to her, they will see that someone is paying attention to their (homely) friend and think he is all sensitive and then they will have sex with him because they will be overcome with gratitude at his chivalry.* This makes Bianca feel not-so-great about herself and then her home life starts falling apart. One day, overcome with (extreme!) emotion, she has hate-sex with Wesley because Escapism. While Bianca and Wesley have secret hate-sex that turns into secret maybe-not-hate-sex, Bianca’s home life continues falling into the crapper, she discovers that Wesley’s home life is also crappy and maybe he is not such a bad guy after all, she starts falling for him, cliché, cliché, cliché…moral, The End.
The dialogue is well done, but stylistically, the rest of the writing wasn’t always so great. It was occasionally stilted and a little awkward (like “I have a thesaurus and I am going to USE it” kind of thing) but I’m confident that as Ms. Keplinger continues writing, this will fix itself. My big problem is that there were so many Real Life Themes covered that I felt like I was being hit in the head by The Hammer of Harrowing Experiences. Low Self-Esteem! Divorce! Alcoholism! Neglectful Parents! Promiscuity! Pregnancy Scare! I liked that Bianca figured out eventually that EVERYONE feels like the Duff, at least sometimes, but it came off a bit like WHAM! HAVE A MORAL! Here, have TWO! Oh, wait! Here’s ANOTHER! That is not so nice. On a positive note, I thought it was great that teen sex wasn’t demonized and Bianca and Wesley used protection every time they hooked up (the sex bits are allusive rather than explicit). I have read a lot of novels where adults forget to do that, so it’s refreshing to read portrayals of people being (at least partly) responsible when it comes to sex. Also good, her friends aren't portrayed as shallow or vain despite being the potential plot trap of pretty=vapid and Bianca herself is a bit of a smart-mouth.
Overall, there was a lot of potential here and I’ll try more by Kody Keplinger, but I think this one can be skipped. I would like to recommend it, but the ending was so trite that I felt more than a little let down. For a first novel, it’s decent but there’s definite room for growth.
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger