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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

'The Duff' by Kody Keplinger

From the BLURB:

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Bianca Piper has just been let in on a little secret. Something profound that’s made all the more hurtful for being so honest . . . she is the Duff of her friendship group – Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend.

This little slice of wisdom comes from Wesley Rush, the Hamilton High man-whore. Womanizer extraordinaire, a young Casanova and walking-STD.

“What I’m saying is, girls – like your friends – find it sexy when guys show some sensitivity and socialize with the Duff. So by talking to you right now I am doubling my chances of getting laid tonight. Please assist me here, and just pretend to enjoy the conversation.”

Bianca has always known she isn’t Top Model material. She knows that her best friends, Casey and Jessica are ‘the pretty ones’. Bianca sees that she has small boobs and big thighs, mousy brown hair and no inclination to socialize or dance to the (non) beat of techno music. But to have this fact so rudely thrust upon her is . . . disarming. And it becomes the cherry on top of a perfectly horrible week. A week that sees her absentee mother finally file for divorce, with no warning and no preparation, thereby throwing her alcoholic father back into the bottom of a whiskey bottle. Not to mention the boy who broke her heart is back in town, with his fiancée in tow. So is it any wonder when faced with all these harsh realities, Bianca just wants to escape for a little while . . . and Wesley’s womanizing arms look terrible tempting? Even if he has affectionately nicknamed her ‘Duffy’?

‘The Duff’ was the 2010 debut YA novel from Kody Keplinger.

I knew I would love this book. Everything just screamed; ‘keeper’ to me. The bold bubblegum cover, at odds with the harsh acronym title. The Gen Y ugly-duckling tale. All the rave reviews. I knew that I would adore this book. So I squirreled it away for a reading-slump – knowing I'd pull it out when I needed a pick-me-up in my reading habits. And, lo and behold, it worked . . . and I am in love.

Once upon a time, YA author Judy Blume was praised for her books about tough teen issues like parental divorce, questioning religion and exploring sexuality. But since the days of Blume that yardstick has been moved, and it’s with a new sense of audacious honesty that Keplinger writes her teen melodrama.

In ‘The Duff’ the existential exploration comes when Bianca has the knowledge of her ho-hum looks crudely explained to her via the secret codex of a teenage Lothario. This is the new body-awareness discussion, and it comes on the back of a hurtful comment that is mired in today’s obsession with beauty and being a certain jean-size.

The exploration of sexuality is less of a journey and more blasé acceptance. Keplinger is writing teenagers very, very honestly – so that when Bianca admits to losing her virginity at age fourteen, you can imagine people of a certain age quirking their eyebrows and thinking ‘surely not!’ . . . but teens reading the novel will not bat an eyelash. Nor will they be particularly surprised when Bianca and Wesley begin a purely sexual relationship that’s all about sensual distraction in the wake of family dysfunction. This is not a watered-down slice of teen fiction . . . this is Keplinger writing brutal, high school honesty and representing Gen Y with absolute sincerity.

No matter how raw and frighteningly messy Keplinger’s teenager’s are, they still have a lot of growing up to do. And the novel is ultimately about Bianca realising the pigeon-holed draw-backs of high school, in particular how girls are competing with themselves as much as each other in the nasty stakes;

Calling Vicki a slut or a whore was just like calling someone the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off of an inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like ne of these sexist labels described her at some point.
So, maybe, every girl felt like the Duff, too?

I loved that ‘The Duff’ was a great big of teen melodrama. It’s like ‘Mean Girls’ – all gloss on the top, made all the more addictive for having an opposites-attracting, hot n’ heavy romance at its centre . . . but really, Keplinger is mixing in a lot of deeper explorations like feminism, self-image and realizing that boys are as breakable as girls when it comes to sex and relationships.

Dare I say, Kody Keplinger Judy Blume for Gen Y? She writes with a wry cynicism and brutal honesty – mixed with fantastic young melodrama and a biting romance. She is a new automatic-buy author for me.

5/5

1 comment:

  1. I have wanted to read this one since I saw the blurb. Then the great reviews started coming out. I've got to have it! Wonderful review, I'm glad it cured your reading slump.

    As an aside, I'm really, really pleased with all the great YA books that have come out recently. Great stuff!

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