The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

“The Duff” is what Wesley labels Bianca one night while she’s sitting by herself in the club, sipping cherry coke as her friends are out dancing. “Duff” stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Bianca is insulted enough to throw her coke in his face and resolves to stay far away from Wesley, who is notorious for sleeping with every and any girl who asks. However, she later happens to kiss him rather enthusiastically and realizes she very much enjoyed it. Combined with a home situation quickly going to hell, sleeping with Wesley seems like just the thing to help her forget her life for a little while, even if she still thinks he’s a despicable person. But, as it turns out, Wesley actually gets where Bianca is coming from, and the two of them actually might be compatible in ways outside of a good sexual chemistry.

I kind of want this book to be required reading for every sex-ed class taught in every single school in the United States. It has so much that is right with it in terms of portraying sexual relationships in all their confusing, complicated, awesome glory. One of the best things about all the sex was that the authorial voice never indicated that any of the characters were wrong in their actions. Sure, Bianca sleeping with Wesley in order to ignore all the problems in her life is probably not the best decision she could have made in terms of her emotional health, considering she’s convinced she wants Wesley to die a horrible death. Same thing with when she had sex with her first boyfriend – he was a lot older than she was and their entire relationship was a sham. But Bianca is never cast as doing something wrong because she has all this sex. The sex isn’t the problem – the reasons why she has it might not be completely A. OK, but sex itself is not to blame.

This is absolutely amazing. I can’t remember reading another YA book where a girl has this much sex and isn’t called a slut or a whore. Bianca does wrestle with that problem a bit herself. Does sleeping with Wesley so much outside of the context of a relationship make her a whore? After all, she makes it completely obvious Wesley that she’s screwing him only because he helps her forget about all the things going badly in her life. However, Wesley puts the kibosh on her doubts when he tells her, “What you are is an intelligent, sassy, sarcastic, cynical, neurotic, loyal, compassionate girl.” I can’t describe Bianca any better than Wesley just did right there.

Another thing that was a pleasant surprise – I’ve only read one or two YA books that included oral sex, but I definitely have not read a book before this one that has a guy going down on a girl rather than the other way around. THIS. YES. MORE OF THIS PLEASE. There are not enough positive, happy examples of cunnilingus in mainstream media, and that includes YA fiction. Also, as a side note, there’s a lot of sex that occurs over the course of this book and they are all written well. Since sex scenes are ridiculously hard to Get Right, kudos to the author on that.

The concept of the Duff was a really good one, and I loved how it was a comparative word, rather than a definition. A person is only a Duff in relation to who their friends are or who they’re seen with at any given time. Bianca thinks she’s the Duff because she’s not as tall or thin as her friends Jessica and Casey, but as far as Casey’s concerned, she’s the Duff because she towers over everyone, including most of the guys. And it’s probably true as well that every person has felt like the Duff of their group of friends at least once in their life.

I did wish Wesley’s problems with his parents had been given more attention and detail. All we have is that they’re away most of the time so Wesley never sees them and feels lonely. Which is understandable and sympathy inducing, but compared to the depth that Bianca’s family problems are given, it feels weak. Similarly lacking depth was Toby, Bianca’s long-time crush, whom she starts dating. He pretty much has no flaws, which makes his perfection a flaw, and I hate characters that I like that. They’re not flawed, they’re boring.

Also, for the time that Bianca’s trying to convince herself that she hates Wesley, she’s particularly one-note in her hatred and her thoughts about him. It’s sort of repetitive in that she has to keep thinking about how he sleeps with every girl ever and he’s so slimy and icky and she hates every fiber of his person. With regards to this, the writing did feel simplistic and a little forced.

I am really glad that this book currently exists and is being sold in bookstores and read by teenagers. It is, without a doubt, one of the most sex-positive YA books I’ve read, and that alone makes it worth reading. There are some elements lacking needed detail or emotional fortitude, rendering them more simplistic than they should be, but they’re made up for by two relatable, flawed, fucked-up characters who actually manage to bang out a decent, working relationship in the end. All in all, I am pleased with this book.

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Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM  Leave a Comment  

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