I’m not sure if any of you readers out there could have guessed this from my foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I tend to go all in when I find rabbit holes that I like. I know this about myself and *sometimes* I try to prevent it from happening. That’s how I ended up reading The Duff last summer. I read the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy (Shadow and Bone), and I thought to myself ‘I’m going to get sucked into this world if I don’t take a step back right now.’ So instead of immediately starting to read Siege and Storm, I picked up The Duff first. And I’m glad I did!
(Spoiler alert: I got sucked into the Grishaverse anyway and have now read through Six of Crows. Crooked Kingdom is next. I never want to leave the Grishaverse and CANNOT WAIT for King of Scars, holy moly.)
But anyway, I DIGRESS.
In The Duff, Bianca Piper knows she’s not the prettiest of her friends, but she’s always hung with them and they love each other. It isn’t until Wesley Rush calls her the group’s DUFF – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend – that she starts to really, truly hate him. But stuff at her house sucks and her friends are her saving graces, and that means continual outings that put her in contact with Wesley. And then… she kisses him? And likes it? When they’re paired up for a group project in class, Bianca starts to see that Wesley might be good for something after all, and they enter into a frenemies-with-benefits relationship.
But then she starts to actually like Wesley, and everything goes to hell.
3 Things I Loved
- Bianca. Aside from some problematic dialogue throughout the book, Bianca was awesome. A super authentic teenage narrator. I’d love to read more from Bianca’s POV, but sadly, I don’t think this book has any type of sequel.
- Wesley. Okay, Wesley can be a jerk, but y’all know how I feel about grumpy, cocky love interests. I’m trash for them. Wesley is no exception.
- Sex positivity in teenagers. THIS WAS THE BEST PART OF THE BOOK. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that took place in high school where sex was so normalized. It wasn’t revered, but it also wasn’t inherently shameful (aside from some problematic dialogue, again). It was just a thing that teenagers do, and they do it safely in this book, and I WAS HERE FOR IT. I wanted books like this when I was actually in high school.
Here’s the thing about this book – it was released in 2010 and was written by an actual teenager at the time. Which is great – teenage me is jealous that Kody Keplinger is so much more talented than I ever was – but it definitely reads that way. There were problems in this book. It reminded me of Mean Girls in a lot of ways – and if you’ve rewatched Mean Girls lately, you’ll agree that that movie is hella problematic – mostly in the language and the characterization of having sex = automatic slut. I understand (and appreciate, as mentioned) that teenage sex is normalized in this book, but it’s the language that the characters use in their dialogue that bothered me. I read this long enough ago that I can’t remember any specific examples, but I remember just feeling… squicky at times. This book was messy.
Now, I have also heard that the more recent books from this author are amazing, so I have been categorizing this book as a product of its time. And the voice in the story was authentic and wonderful and teenage me would have loved it. So I’ll be picking up more Kody Keplinger books in the future, definitely.
A reminder of the rating scale:
- Red = DNF, I hated everything
- Orange = Ugh, no thank you
- Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
- Green = This was good!
- Blue = Oh my gosh, I loved this book!
- Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart and EVERYONE should be reading it!
If we’re going to slide this book into the category of it being a product of its time, I’ll say that 2010 me would have given it five stars. As it stands, I read it someone in my late twenties in 2017, so that has to be considered. All in all, I’m giving The Duff a GREEN rating. Sex positivity for the win.
One thing to note – I haven’t seen the movie that was based on this book yet! Have any of you read the book or seen the movie (or both?!)? Let me know in the comments – I’m curious if the movie was any good!