by Kody Keplinger
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.
It's been a long time since I first read Keplinger's The Duff. My mind wanders back to that book every now and then and especially now that the movie has been announced.
From the trailer, the movie seems fun/funny and I'll probably watch it. However, lets not get all crazy calling that movie an adaptation of The Duff. If the trailer says anything about the movie itself, than I already know I will be disappointed with it in comparison with the book.
Which brings me to my post today, a revisitation with The Duff. It is the one book I have re-read, not just twice, but a solid three times and I foresee re-reading it in the future. But why? What is so captivating about this book that makes me want to read and re-read countless times?
The answer is simple and, sadly, rare amongst other books. The book, its writing and characters, are honest. They are flawed and lonely and honest.
Bianca is the "Duff," the designated ugly fat friend who happens to be friends with two gorgeous and popular girls. The fact is not lost on her, but it's until Wesley, an arrogant and promiscuous classmate, provides her a namesake that explains her "place." It's through Wesley that Bianca finds an outlet for everything that's going wrong in her life: parents divorcing, father's alcoholism, an ex-boyfriend coming into town.
Keplinger does not provide us with vague feelings and physicalness. Instead, she gives us these two individuals, each feeling broken and lonely, and provides for them an outlet - sex. Is it the best outlet? No. Is it realistic, something honest? Yes. The author gives these certain scenes with Bianca and Wesley a fierce almost animalistic urgency. It's not dirty or gross - it's a need to escape.
It would have been very easy for Keplinger to "take the easy way out" and have sex be the focus of the story or even to do the opposite and say how wrong it is for sex to be the focus of Bianca and Wesley's story. Keplinger, however, does neither of these things. The story tightens to a point in which there is no moving on and then slowly begins to unravel.
The transition from fierce and frantic sex to something more happens subtly. The pair lose their urgency and begin to take their time. There is more conversation and playfulness. There is some respect and care between the two. And slowly, but surely, they begin to realize it themselves. These characters transform from who they used to be, and it has to do with something more than just sex. Bianca learns to not be so judgmental, of herself or others, and that sometimes, you need to ask for help. Wesley learns that, although it's great to be honest and true to yourself, sometimes we learn to communicate a different part of ourselves to show those around us how much we love them. These characters learn from each other and it is beyond sex.
From a feminist perspective, this book has it going on. It shows a young woman making her own decisions about what to do with her body. No one is forcing her to have sex and in the end, the person that is most critical of her is herself. Through these experiences with Wesley, she learns how easy and dangerous it can be to judge someone for what you see on the surface level. This causes her to think differently and be better.
Likewise, we learn how Wesley is judged for his behavior without knowing the whole story. I enjoyed that this story crossed the gender bias when it came to sex. It was Wesley that was known for always having sex with women - Bianca herself referring to him as a "slut." But in the end, Wesley accepts that he is more than what he does. He has always had the power to do something different and he finally found a reason to in Bianca.
In the end, this book was about our choices, flawed or not, and how quick we all are to judge others. Thankfully, this book is also about realizing we are all flawed, but that doesn't mean we can't try and be better for ourselves and those we love.