The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) – Kody Keplinger

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 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 is pretty content with her life. She’s smart, scathingly honest, has two best friends she cares about more than anything, and a secret crush on the perfect and adorable Toby Tucker. Sometimes she feels out-shadowed by her model-gorgeous friends, Casey and Jessica, but that’s okay because Bianca isn’t trying to attract anyone’s attention because high schooler’s aren’t capable of falling in love. Not real love, anyway. Enter Wesley Rush, who changes Bianca’s entire opinion of herself by calling her “the Duff,” the designated ugly fat friend. But as much as she wants to hate him—no, wait, she does hate him—she’s also incredibly drawn to him…for all the wrong reasons. But Wesley turns out to be much more than he appears.

The DUFF closely examines the insecurities that all girls, and even boys, face. Throughout the book, Bianca struggles with what it means to be the Duff. She doesn’t want the comment to bother her. After all, why should she care what anyone, much less the school man-whore, thinks? Yet…she can’t help but see the truth in his words. How can she compare to her tall, thin, blonde best friends? It isn’t until she voices her concerns to Casey and Jessica and they insist they’re the Duffs (I’m not sure what Jessica’s flaws are, but at more than six feet tall, Casey feels like a giant) that Bianca realizes every girl will consider herself a Duff at some point or another and that maybe being a Duff isn’t such a bad thing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fall in love with this book. I wanted to and I tried so hard. After all, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it and I can see why. Usually, I’m a sucker for witty, sarcastic narrators, but something about Bianca made it hard for me to relate to her. She reminded me of one of my best friends, except with about fifty percent of my friend’s likeability. Maybe I thought she crossed the line of being too cynical and perpetually angry. Also, I wasn’t really a fan of the way she treated Casey and Jessica throughout a majority of the book. Bianca could be really hard to put up with sometimes, but Casey was always there for her, always loyal. I felt like she deserved more from Bianca. Also, I didn’t entirely believe that Wesley was truly falling for Bianca until the very end, which made it hard for me to really emotionally invest in their relationship. That being said, I still think their relationship was fascinating and provides a breath of fresh air to the YA community. In fact, the entire book is a breath of fresh air. It shows a grittier, less everything-is-sunshine-and-rainbows and infinitely more real look at teenage relationships (from friendships to casual acquaintances to dysfunctional families).

Keplinger does an excellent job of capturing the essence of teenage dynamics and friendships. The dialogue is snappy and fast-paced. The high school experiences seem real instead of clichéd and my guess is that most readers won’t be able to put it down. Kody Keplinger is definitely an author to look out for.

Pages: 280
Publication Date: September 2010
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Challenge: Debut Author
Rating [rating: 3.5]

Teaser Quote: “Wesley Rush doesn’t chase girls, but I’m chasing you.”

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