TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Kody Keplinger is a first-time teen author with a new book, "The DUFF," coming out in a few weeks. Little, Brown's Poppy imprint is doing a big publicity push for this novel, and I can definitely see why. "The DUFF" — it stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend — is a quick read with an interesting hook, a compelling main character in Bianca, and, let's be honest, an awful lot of sex appeal for a teen novel.
Bianca is the Duff of the title. Although she's smart, feisty, and acerbic (yup, she's the typical YA heroine), Bianca often plays second fiddle to her model-beautiful best friends, Casey and Jessica. At a local teen dance club, Bianca erupts at the gorgeous, cocky player Wesley when he teasingly calls her Duffy. Bianca despises Wesley for his sense of privilege and the casual way he uses and discards girls. Still, while Bianca says she finds Wesley repugnant and argues with him constantly, she abruptly kisses him during a fight. She then realizes that kissing Wesley is like a drug; it can make all her other problems — her parents' divorce and later her dad's alcoholism — disappear, even if only for a few fleeting moments.
The kissing escalates, and from there, Bianca and Wesley begin secretly sleeping together on a regular basis, mostly at his mansion, where he lives alone while his sister stays with a grandmother and his parents travel. Bianca avoids Wesley at school and keeps her involvement with him secret from everyone, which leads to a rift with her friends and accusations of abandonment. After a violent encounter with her drunk father, Bianca realizes that things with Wesley may have inadvertently become serious and that they each may have developed feelings for each other. A real connection — to Wesley of all people! — freaks Bianca out, so she literally bolts, turning to polite, boring classmate Toby.
What works here? The quick pace, which allowed me to burn through this book in one sitting. I loved Bianca's authentic first-person narrative, which nicely expresses her inner conflicts, her weaknesses, and why she's acting so impulsively. I was pleasantly surprised by the character of Wesley, who is so much deeper than Bianca first imagines, yet still remains a realistic, flawed high school boy. There's also a good deal of discrete passion here and, ultimately, a showing of genuine emotion that feels well earned. Lastly, I liked the easy manner in which the book's message, that everyone feels as if they're the Duff at one time or another, was conveyed. Well done.
All these positives far outweigh the flat characterizations of the secondary characters (Toby, Jessica, Casey, a slutty girl at school) and the unbelievably fast and smooth manner in which Bianca's dad recovers from a relapse into alcoholism. But these are minor criticisms and will be easily overlooked by teen girls, who seem the most obvious target audience for this fun, engaging read. Please note that Little, Brown is recommending a target age of 15 and up, based largely on the sexual content here, which is not scandalous by any means by which is prominently featured. Just a heads up. Look for "The DUFF" in the next few weeks. Enjoy!
PS – The cover of my advanced copy of "The DUFF," generously provided by the folks at Little, Brown, features a close-up shot of a different girl than the one depicted in the finalized edition, shown below. What's up with that?