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The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Review

The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Bianca Piper is a smart girl with personality, cynical and funny, seeing herself presumably the way others view her: as the odd one out, less beautiful than her friends. She hangs out with her best friends, often at a trendy dance club where she talks with the bartender, watching the clock and drinking Cokes while her friends dance. It's rarely a problem for her to find herself the center of attention for anyone looking for a date, and she's usually in a hurry to get Jessica and Casey to leave. But once in a blue moon, some unlucky fellow will saunter over and discover, unhappily, that Bianca is anything but truly available. Then one night, that guy turns out to be Wesley Rush, a gorgeous young man from school, and Bianca finds out she's "the DUFF": the Designated Ugly Fat Friend --- because Wesley tells her so.

To call Wesley a womanizer would be an understatement. He'd sleep with almost  anything and gets away with his notorious reputation, while his one-night-stands are not so lucky. You wonder if Wesley's past dates still feel they enjoyed themselves when he moves on. He's obviously enjoying himself and saves his most seductive speeches for the freshmen class. It seems odd to Bianca that she's one of the few in the school who hates him enough to tell him no. Bianca's thoughts: Wesley is "kind of hot. Maybe if you could put him on mute...and cut off his hands...maybe --- just maybe --- he'd be tolerable then." But privately, she's not so different from the others, confessing only to herself that he's gorgeous. But of course that sentiment is only physical. How great could he really be?

After learning what Wesley thinks of her --- which isn't that far off from what she thinks about herself --- Bianca decides that she hates him even more. Hate probably isn't a strong enough word. But for some odd reason, she's also found that she suddenly can't keep her hands off him. She's been stressed about her home life because her parents don't seem to love each other and are growing further apart, and she's only just discovered she's ridiculously undesirable. It's enough for Bianca to simply not care anymore and to just go for it. To be clear, she doesn't want Wesley --- just his body, some physical distraction. Wesley, of course, is happy to provide it and continues to call Bianca "Duffy" whenever he sees her. 

Wesley is sarcastic and usually completely physically oriented, but Bianca doesn't behave much differently and ends up enjoying herself. There is this nagging question that has come up though that has begun to bother her: Underneath his perfect, muscular exterior, is there a guy who has a heart? She doesn't believe in love, not with teenagers anyway, but spends a lot of time with him and is stressed out enough to become quiet and distant at times. Once Wesley notices, he asks how she's doing and really wants to know. There are hints that Wesley does want to see the real Bianca, but whether it could work is doubtful. In the way of Bianca's heart is the question of why Wesley uses women. Why does he run through girls and suddenly become interested in dating the "DUFF"? Because he's a "man-whore," right? But with Bianca reticent to let him in and Wesley genuinely wanting to be let in, who's now the shallow one and who's the better person? And of the two, who deserves the label that often comes with being promiscuous?

Obviously THE DUFF presents quite a different take on the boy-meets-girl scenario, but it's as unique and funny as nearly any teen romance I've seen. It's a great light read for older liberal teens, 15 and up, but more conservative readers should definitely be warned about recurring harsh language and sexual content. I find it amazing that this young author --- who's only 18 --- has written a compelling story that challenges and draws comparisons on sexual activity in teens relating to social labeling. To be clear, Kody Keplinger is not endorsing that teenagers be sexually active --- in fact, she leans closer to the other side of that issue. Her point is simply that there shouldn't be blanket labels and that our tendency to connect self-esteem problems with early sexual activity in a relationship is sometimes misplaced.

It seems appropriate that the situation of Hester Prynne, the woman forced to wear the letter A in THE SCARLET LETTER --- is addressed here. To gain the fullness of Keplinger's perspective, one must see the characters through her eyes.

The romantic triangle at the heart of the book is one thing that limits this to a teens-only crowd, but it will certainly leave readers with many things to ponder.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on September 7, 2010

The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
by Kody Keplinger

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Poppy
  • ISBN-10: 0316084239
  • ISBN-13: 9780316084239