Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Reads: The Duff

The Duff.  By Kody Keplinger.  Okay, here's what I love about this one: the author.  Keplinger is young, only nineteen, and she wrote this book while still in high school.  Is that perspective or what?  And, while there are obvious signs that this is a debut novel (plot and characters can be thin at times), Keplinger is an author I'm keeping my eye on.

Synopsis: (below the synopsis taken from Keplinger's website, are some observations taken from Amazon Editorial Reviews, just a few highlighted points that are probably more eloquent than I could achieve)

"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."
"Lots of language, plenty of sex (well, instances, if not images), and contemporary references make this feel of the moment. But the underlying worry about one’s place in the sun is eternal. Teens will relate, even though the problems, especially at home, seem a retread and the characterizations are on the thin side. What’s best here is Bianca’s brazen voice. Even when confused, she is truer to herself than most."
"This debut novel is a fun read and surprisingly feminist in a number of ways. Keplinger makes good points about female body image and female friendship, and discusses how both men and women use offensive terms about women as a means of social control. Bianca and the other female characters are more believable and realistic than Wesley, who is straight out of female romantic fantasyland. It is a little difficult to understand why Bianca would get involved with him after he insults her, but in their romantic scenes, there is some seriously hot chemistry. These teens are realistically and openly sexual, and there are frequent discussions of such matters as birth control as well as a few F-bombs. Older girls, including reluctant readers, will love this one."
 First Sentence:  "This was getting old."  We hear Bianca's tone and voice immediately.  You don't get the real sense unless you get past the first sentence of course, but Keplinger sets up the first scene to immediately get us into the story.  A few pages in and we meet Wesley, the guy who dubs her as the Duff (Designated, Ugly, Fat, Friend).

Beefs: While Keplinger talks openly about sex, her characters are wonderfully real like that, and the dangers of sex such as psychological issues, social repercussions, and pregnancy, she only jokes about STDs.  When will someone actually discuss it?  Okay, no, I probably don't want to read about something like that.  It's depressing after all.  But someone needs to bring the issue up, introduce it to teens in a way that it isn't just a joke.  And Beef #2: if one more book discusses Wurthering Heights, I might throw it out the window (though, to give this book credit, Bianca hated it).

Brownie Points: The drama.  Ya, ya, we all hate drama, get over it.  But Bianca hates drama too.  She doesn't believe in real love (at least not at their tender ages--I love her for it, by the way).  But the way she loses herself in her "relationship" with Wesley is so real, and her friends getting P.O.'ed at her (to borrow the language) is very real too.  Of course I'm going to mention Keplinger's open discussion of sex.  The book is pretty much all about sex.  Take it out and you don't have a plot.  And it doesn't preach.  We're trying to get teens to read, after all, not sit them down for a lecture.

Ending:  It was too perfect.  There are some serious issues in this book, including an alcoholic father (who stopped drinking 18 years ago for a reason), an abandoned son and daughter, pregnancy scares, and self esteem issues a la mode.  In the end, people hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  Sure, it left me with warm fuzzies and a smile (and a dangerous suspicion it might be chick-lit after all), but Bianca did stay true to herself in the end, and that's ultimately what matters.

Recommendation: Girls, especially teenage girls, should read this book.  It should be assigned in high school and openly discussed.  For the rest of you, you want a good read?  Read it.

Would I represent it?  It did leave me wanting (just a little).  I like books with slightly heavier plots.  But Bianca's voice was amazing and the topic edgy.  So ya, I'd probably represent something like it. But don't be edgy for the sake of being edgy. Be true to your characters.

Happy reading!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that Keplinger is an author to watch. The voice is definitely what kept me reading.
The ending was a little "neatly wrapped bow"-ish. I hoped for a little more conflict.
One thing that Keplinger did so well was the humor. There are some laugh-out-loud moments that are genuine and ring true to Bianca.
Happy New Year.

Amy Tripp said...

Sounds like an interesting book, but not one I'd run out to read.

Just curious - is it written first-person present tense like so many YAs these days?

Heather said...

Thank you for this great recommendation! I'm going to buy myself and my teenage sister a copy!

ChristaCarol Jones said...

I bought it already and it's sitting in my TBR pile. Can't wait to get to it, I love brazen voices with lead female characters.