Book Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Publishing Info: April 2012 by Hodder Children’s Books (kindle edition, movie tie-in) (first published 2010)

Pages: 300

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder…

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is smart, cynical, loyal – and well aware that she’s not the hot one in her group of friends. But when high-school jock and all round moron Wesley Rush tells her she’s a DUFF – a Designated, Ugly Fat Friend – Bianca does not the see funny side. She may not be a beauty but she’d never stoop so low as to go anywhere near the likes of Wesley … Or would she? Bianca is about to find out that attraction defies looks and that sometimes your sworn enemies can become your best friends … With a wry and tell-it-like-it-is voice, The Duff is a witty and poignant story of a teenager struggling with the rules of high school attraction, along with the breaking down of her relationships with family and friends. It is a novel about what it means to be sexy, in a world where we feel we have to be perfect!

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book since I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it. That doesn’t usually dictate a book choice. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while, I think I got it in a deal. But really, it’s been a couple of years since I would have enjoyed this kind of book so I’m not sure what I was thinking.

It could have been worse, I’ll say that. But it could have been way better too. One of the upsides was that the main character’s voice and personality came through the narration right from the first page. I can see why people would like Bianca’s character and associate with her. She’s a pretty normal girl and isn’t one of those main characters who seems to be perfect, or who spend the whole time moaning about how they aren’t perfect/beautiful. Bianca only really starts thinking about her appearance when Wesley calls her the DUFF. She has flaws and did stuff which seemed really stupid to me and would have been annoying, but Keplinger put her thoughts across really well so I kind of understood Bianca’s reasoning, even though I thought she was being an idiot.

In terms of the other characters, Wesley was okay but didn’t really break the mould much. The jock-who-sleeps-with-everyone-but-then-meets-the-main-character-who-changes-him trope has been done before. Jessica and Casey, Bianca’s friends, were quite flat and 2D at the beginning and I couldn’t even distinguish between them, but as the book went on I gradually could see their individual personalities. They’re pretty good friends.

So many teen romance stories just bang on about the hot guy and the romance stuff. But The DUFF actually deals with some more serious topics too. It looks at Bianca’s home life, at issues of divorce and alcoholism. I was pleasantly surprised to see these serious issues in there, as I’d been expecting it to be over the top teen romance. It made the book more realistic.

However, as the book went on there were just too many stereotypes. Way too many. At the start when there were some I could see why, because the whole point of the book is about stereotypes and perceptions, but as the book went on they just kept piling up.

I’m also a little annoyed about the representations of mental illness in the book. I thought the alcoholism was done well. However right in chapter 2 is the mention of Bianca being ‘OCD’ when she is systematically folding her clothes, something she does every night to calm herself. I’m still not sure having finished the book whether Keplinger was genuinely trying to present a character with OCD, or whether she obliviously used the term inappropriately. It was only mentioned a couple of times and wasn’t really explored properly. It’s like it was just thrown in.

But the thing that annoyed me the most was this line, and I’m going to quote it, because I nearly threw my Kindle across the room with anger: “Maybe someone needed to slap me or put me through shock treatments like they give crazy people in the movies. That might have brought me to my senses.” What? I’m sorry, but you go and include alcoholism and OCD in your book, great, including mentally ill characters and all that, but then you can’t go and put in a line like this. Yes, a lot of people aren’t aware what mental illness is really like, and that’s why we need to raise awareness and reduce stigma (this is really important to me), but you can’t have a character say something like that. Representations of mental illness in films and other media often falsely represents mental illness and contributes to a culture of stigma. This is just going to reinforce the stereotype and stigma. The flippancy of this line as well made me really mad. I could rant about this for ages because really it just disgusted me that this reinforcement of stigma was allowed to be published.

That’s a pretty negative note to end this review on. I know it’s only one line, but words matter and even a few can make a difference.

I didn’t hate this book as much as I thought I would. It seemed like Kepligner was trying to do something different and meaningful, but fell into the inescapable pit of teen romance tropes.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

  1. I didn’t have that high of an opinion of the book either and had many issues with it. It worked for a light romantic comedy on the big screen, but I took issue with the writing style and behaviour of most of the characters in the novel. I’ll give Keplinger one more chance in ‘Lying Out Loud’ the second book in this series, and if my opinion does not change, I’ll be avoiding her writing from now on. Let’s hope she redeems herself with a fun novel. Thanks for sharing your review – Happy reading. :)

    • Likewise I’d probably give another of her books a go, with a slither of optimism, since there were some things I did like about this book, even if there were plenty of other things I didn’t.

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