By Kody Keplinger
September 7, 2010
Poppy, 288 pages
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.
— Amazon.com description
I spent more than half of The Duff extremely pissed off. “This is an awful lesson for young girls about self-esteem. Even this book’s title is insulting. How could ANY of my friends actually like this Wesley jerk? (Ginger, I’m looking at you!) How could Bianca show any romantic interest in a guy who puts her down so much? Why can’t she just learn to talk out her issues?” I wanted to slap the girl.
Then she actually gets slapped by her father and I remembered: She’s just a kid. It was a real aha! moment. My thoughts on the book did an instant 180.
Of course I think this Wesley guy is crap for her and she needs to work on her self-esteem—I’ve grown up and learned all these lessons already. She can’t know this stuff at age 16; she’s got to learn it herself the hard way. And, as a reader and as a former miserable teenage girl, I feel like I need learn to give main characters some more slack and stop judging while I read.
Haven’t you ever fallen for a boy who was bad for you? I did. A few times! When I was her age, I made a lot of the mistakes Bianca made in this book, though in a less dramatic and literary way that didn’t involve the whole sleeping around thing and instead involved quite a bit more of homework-doing and sucking up to teachers and reading.
It wasn’t told in the most poetic way, and I felt there were plenty of shortcuts taken with the storytelling. But, in the end, the characters grew. And in this particular instance, that was enough to make me overlook this book’s many flaws and feel pleased when I got the last page.
I’m not saying everyone should like Bianca or support her choices as a character. I’m just saying that if you really look at her, you might see a little bit of yourself at age 16. I did, and it reminded me that if I’m ever going to really “get” YA lit as an adult, I sometimes just have to give in to the teenage mind-set and go along for the ride. Even if I know better.
A great, unexpected lesson from a book I was convinced I’d hate.
PS: The teens in this book all got together at a teen-only club. Is it just me, or is this a total urban legend? Did anyone actually hang out at one of these when they were teens besides Buffy, Willow & the gang?