The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger; published by Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010; 277 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The cover art, below, and the publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: September 7, 2010.

Seniors in high school should be preparing to go out into the world.  But 17 year old Bianca’s world is falling down around her.  Her mother hasn’t been home in months, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when divorce papers arrive.  Even so, the news devastates Bianca’s father.  And he begins drinking again.  But Bianca is ashamed to tell her friends about the drama at home.  Maybe she doesn’t want them to know she’s even more not like them (B knows they’re prettier and she’s lucky to have them as friends).  Instead, she turns to “man-whore” Wesley for distraction.  Hmm, maybe Wesley’s not so bad after all…or is he?

Oh, I dread writing this review.  I know some teen girls will read this because it was written by now-18-year-old Kody Keplinger.  Cool, a realistic story written by a teen for teens.  But wait.  It’s not so great.  I found Keplinger trying very hard to sound more worldly and wise than she is.  Like, Bianca’s mother saying it wasn’t fair to make B take the role of parent. *sigh*  Trite.  Her ability to create full-bodied characters is lacking as well.  We never really get a clear picture of Bianca (intentional? Is she every insecure teen girl, like Bella in Twilight?).  In fact, I never felt anything stronger than apathy for her.  Being snarky all the time is not believable; the scenes in which Bianca is supposed to be vulnerable didn’t strike a harmonic with me. But we sure know what Wesley is like, at least his physical appearance which the author spends a lot of time describing (another reference to his arms & abs and I would’ve quit on the book) and the pretty friends include a Taylor Swift look-alike.  And the last complaint about the immaturity of the author: The use of pop culture references was greatly overdone and felt like a replacement for finding universal descriptors to further develop the plot.

It also seems that Keplinger peppered the book with unnecessarily distracting profanity in a misguided attempt to appear more adult or something.  It is a gifted wordsmith who knows when to use profanity to make a point.  Overuse it and you sound like you’re trying to write a story only for shock value. In this case, I was so numbed by the gratuitous f-bomb that, when it would’ve impacted the progression of the character’s development, there was no “a-ha!” moment.  Do teens swear?  Duh.  Does that mean it should comprise the bulk of the adjectives in a book?  Not in my opinion.

Beyond profanity, there is the underlying idea that sex as a distraction will end with a knight in shining armor saving the girl with low esteem.  Yikes.  Of course, that is an important topic to explore with teens.  Because the characters are one dimensional and the plot seems to revolve around describing Bianca’s “relationship” with Wesley, this book reads as pulp fiction.  There is an audience for pulp fiction and there’s an audience for this book; it’s just not for me.  I think this plotline is better told in Unraveling by Michelle Baldini and Lynn Biederman or Willow by Julia Hoban.

4P     1Q     Grade Level: 11-adults (I mean 11th grade, not 11 years old!!!)

Cover Art: The yellow DUFF and the words defining the acronym will get teen’s attention.  But I’m looking at the ARC cover; that may change in final publication.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)


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