The Premise: Bianca Piper is a cynical high school girl who spends her time with her two best friends, Casey and Jessica. One night at the local teen hangout, Wesley Rush, the resident “man-slut”, who Bianca cannot stand, begins a conversation with her. His purpose? To get to Bianca’s friends via their weakest link — the Duff, aka the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Thoroughly disgusted by Wesley’s hurtful label and slimeball plans, Bianca throws her Cherry Coke in his face, gives him what for, and storms off. That probably would’ve been the end of that, except that soon after, Bianca discovers that her often absent mom wants a divorce. So Bianca seeks escape in a physical relationship with Wesley. What was meant to be a distraction has complications that Bianca never intended.
My Thoughts: It blows my mind that this author is 18 years old. Eighteen! The writing doesn’t suffer for it. I think that instead, her age is a strength — the teenage voice in The Duff was more honest and believable than many of the YA books I’ve read lately. Bianca, the narrator, is full of snark and bluster, particularly around her friends (and Wesley who she never holds back from), but she feels like a real teenager. Sure, not all teens are as free with their expletives or as sexually experienced as Bianca, but I could relate to his girl and where she was in her life.
OK. Sneaking around to have sex with the boy you hate is not the healthiest way to deal with your problems. In fact, it is the opposite of healthy. But I could believe Bianca’s need to be distracted from her personal problems (what is reading if not a distraction?), and Wesley is an easy distraction. Bianca manages to ignore what’s going on for a little while, but it all catches up with her. There’s a clear message that there are consequences for what she does: the distancing from her friends that she’s hiding things from, the emotional entanglements, and the possibility of pregnancy or disease (touched lightly, but it’s there). And Bianca isn’t not the only one who learns that you can’t run away forever.
On the other hand, Bianca is really lucky how things ultimately worked out. Wesley easily could have been the bastard she calls him, and the emotional repercussions of their numerous sexual encounters while messy, could have been much more messy. I liked Wesley by the end of this book, but a small (practical) part of me stayed resistant. I think this is where life experience colors the story, but I’m willing to see him as a character with flaws and I could let my disbelief go enough to enjoy the ending, particularly because I wanted these two to work things out. The chemistry between Bianca and Wesley was quite perfect, and I did love their semi-disfunctional, trading-insults relationship.
The secondary characters in this book all had what felt like realistic relationships with Bianca. Her relationship with her parents showed an awareness of their flaws but they do care about their daughter. Her father’s relapse may have been on the dramatic side, but Bianca’s reaction to it was believable. I also loved Bianca’s friendships with Casey and Jessica. The three girls have differing personalities but they each fit a role within their group. There’s a lot of love and loyalty amongst the three, and when Bianca realizes that she’s the Duff of the group, it doesn’t make her search for new, less attractive friends to make herself look better. And realistically, there is worry and hurt feelings when Bianca distances herself from them because of her problems.
The idea that you are not your label is probably the Big Message of this book, but I think it’s an important message, and one that really affects self-esteem. The fact that everyone feels like the Duff, and that one should look beyond a label is something I wish more girls would believe. I liked that Bianca’s choices lead her to these truths.
Overall: While I don’t agree with how the main character initially dealt with her problems, I liked the lessons she ultimately learned, and there was something refreshing in reading a book that embraced sexuality and expletives. I’d recommend this one if you feel like you can look past the idea of a teen’s using sex as an emotional outlet, because this story has a snarky teen voice that I loved because it felt real and honest.
Debbie’s World of Books – positive
Karin’s Book Nook – 5 out of 5
Steph Su Reads – 4.5 out of 5
Book Fare Delights – 4 out of 5
Sophistikated Reviews – 4 out of 5
Pop Culture Junkie – 4.5 out of 5
The Story Siren – 5 out of 5
The Hiding Spot – A+
Book Crazy – 5 mushrooms (must read)