“Compulsive reading, with a sassy heroine you’ll find yourself rooting for against all odds.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

The fact that I love the YA genre gets me a lot of flack, especially considering my other literary choices, but I don’t care, I still enjoy it, and I think The Duff is a great example of how awesome a YA book can be, while at the same time showing the one major fault of the YA genre.

‘Duff,” is an acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Keplinger introduces this acronym in the first chapter when our protagonist, Bianca, gets referred to as The Duff by Wesley Rush. Instantly, Wesley is set up as Bianca’s foil because he is a horny teenage good looking boy and Bianca is an intelligent and sophisticated self-proclaimed feminist. Keplinger strays from somewhat “normal” YA territory when Bianca, in an attempt to escape hard to deal with emotions, kisses Wesley. In her own disgust, she throws her cherry coke on Wesley, but Bianca has tasted the forbidden fruit of emotional distraction, and she likes it. Not Wesley so much, but the distraction. Numbing emotions is one of the biggest reasons people drink, overeat, and do drugs, and Keplinger embraces this psychological motif while Bianca embraces her panacea in the male form.

The story of Bianca and Wesley’s hook-up is really just the backdrop for a variety of literary tropes. Throughout The Duff, Keplinger illustrates why you should never judge a book by it’s cover, embracing your own inner identity and accepting who you are, the fact that you cannot run away from your own demons, and that the decisions you make you in life are yours and yours alone, no one makes you do anything. If that seems like a lot of literary themes and tropes for a YA book less than 200 pages, it is, and this is the book’s only fault. The characters were realistic and the plot flowed realistically, but the character epiphanies happened just too quickly. Within one afternoon with her mother (who has just sent divorce papers to Bianca’s father without telling either Bianca or her father), Bianca understands her mother’s point and view and admits to herself that she cannot hate her. Bianca’s father reacts less than favorably to the news, and commits a horrible act as a result of his drinking…and then he bounces back from his relapse and Bianca forgives him the first time she sees him again. Alcoholism, divorce, and even teenage love and friendships are a rich tapestry of complex emotions, psychology, and philosophy. Resolving these issues within one to two pages do not give them justice.

The Duff has a great plot, lovable characters, and realistic situations. Reading it was a great joy for me, but the entire time I read it, I felt there was something missing. What would make this book better is more time devoted to the extremely heavy subject matter, with more detail from Keplinger and her group of teenage misfits, but those are the restrictions of the YA genre. The Duff is a great YA book, but in the end, it left me craving more adult material.

Reviewed by:

Andrea Krottner

Added 11th May 2015

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