I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this a few months ago. It's not a short novel-- almost 300 pages-- but I devoured it in one day. Here's the summary:
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 "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that 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.
There's a lot to love about THE DUFF, and without spoiling too much of the book, here are a few things I particularly enjoyed:
- Bianca, the protagonist, is tough as nails, abrasive, and not afraid to speak her mind. Some might find her bluntness a turn-off, but I appreciated her unapologetic nature. Not to say she isn't flawed and aware of her flaws, but I feel like this is a character trait more often "acceptable" for men to exhibit, and I like how Bianca never backs down from who she is at her core.
- Bianca and Wesley's relationship-- not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for antagonistic, love/hate relationships. Couples who fight and bicker and think they hate each other at the start but realize somewhere along the way how alike they truly are, and that animosity evolves (or explodes) into passion.
- The love triangle actually had me questioning which way things would go. I wouldn't have blamed her for either choice she made, and no one was villainized in the process. Yay!
- This book-- if the title isn't obvious-- is all about labels. The labels other people give us, and the labels we give ourselves. Bianca is labeled a DUFF and takes offense, but she's not above labeling others herself. I thought her realization of this was honest and realistic when in the hands of another author it could've smacked of After School Special.
- Keplinger's portrayal of sex is neither sanitized nor condemned. It happens, and while a lot of it is an unhealthy coping mechanism, there are no dire consequences. No one dies (like all the non-virgin females in your typical horror flick) or winds up pregnant or anything. Bianca understands the level of dysfunction in her actions, but she isn't apologetic about her choices, either. (She also practices safe sex-- yay responsibility!)
- Female friendships! Bianca's two best friends, Casey and Jessica, have strong roles throughout the novel and offer her her most important support system (even if Bianca doesn't always utilize it). I love reading about strong girl friendships. I've been in "trio" friendships before, and I thought Keplinger presented the dynamics between the three girls well.