<3 <3 <3 <3
I got interested in reading The DUFF because of the high praise The Underground had for the book during a recent giveaway contest. The post was about The DUFF and Bumped -- which I reviewed a while ago and really liked -- and I figured that I might as well read The DUFF so that I could consider how the two stories compare.
The first thing to note is that while both stories do deal heavily with teen sexuality, that they are totally different genres. The DUFF is purely a YA contemporary, whereas Bumped is closer to a dystopian novel.
I'm glad that I checked both books out. they are both worth reading.
The Plot: (from GoodReads)
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.
I was drawn to this book because the way that the term DUFF was described reminded me, quite vividly, of how I felt when I was in high school. (The big difference being that I was an English nerd and tended to call it being Fifth Business instead.) I was the matchmaker, the peacemaker, the advice girl and the go-to guru for pretty much everything any of my friends needed. And I had friends in lots of different social circles.
But I didn't have an actual date all through high school. I could fix anyone up with who they wanted except for myself. So when Wesley told Bianca she was "the DUFF" I cheered when she doused him with cherry coke. I wish I was that brave. But I really wanted to scratch my head at her willingness to sleep with him. I get it -- her life was spiraling out of control. And we all know people can do some crazy things to regain what they fear they have lost. If people use food, pain, drugs or abuse, then there is no reason they could not use sex in the same fashion.
I have to admit that I am still not use to discussing plot in contemporary YA. When I read a fantasy or paranormal book I know that there is going to be a serious conflict that will be introduced and defeated. In a contemporary book the lines feel a little more blurry. I think Keplinger did a good job at making the reader want to see Bianca and Wesley get together. I don't think she did quite so hot on the situation with Bianca and her parents, which is a bit of a shame because their actions are what drive Bianca to do the things she does. A more well rounded exploration of what was going on there might have made the book a little more complete.
Another thing that I wanted to know was why Bianca was so damn cynical. If it is suppose to be because Jake broke her heart two years before that's fine. But at the same time, we don't really see her dealing with this cynicism and the underlying emotions that must be triggering it. She seems to be this way all the time. All I can say about that is "Whew!"... That must take a heck of a lot of energy. I also found her unwillingness to consider that she might be in love was a little silly. Quantifying what is felt does not make it any more awesome when it's going good or less painful when it's going bad.
Wesley was a good match for Bianca, in my opinion. I like how we see the perception she has of him change, and then how he changes in response to it. It really ties into the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you are something, or let people constantly tell you that you are something, eventually you will end up believing it. (Spoiler: I think that was the point of the scene between Bianca and Amy in the latter half of the book.)
I found Toby Tucker annoying. Then again, I don't really go for political guys so that might be part of the reason. I like the fact that by the end there was such a good parallel between what was happening with him and Bianca in comparison to what had been happening with her and Wesley. (Spoiler: Bianca uses Wesley as a destraction and then Toby uses Bianca as a way to try and get over his ex.)
On a more general note, something I really want to give Keplinger credit for is the fact that she wrote a very interesting novel without pinpointing a specific villain. Every character that appears in the book has the potential to do good or bad things, and most of them actually do a little bit of both. Wesley might be a "man-whore" but he also defends Bianca when something terrible happens. "Perfect" Toby turns out to be human. Casey, Bianca's best friend since forever, doesn't always have her absolute best interests at heart -- she actually encourages Bianca to do something that would make her (Casey) feel more secure. In short: I think this is awesome and that it was well done.
This is not your typical "Awww, isn't that cute?" romance. And it makes total sense: these characters did not set out trying to fall in love. (I will say that there is a sweet gesture near the end that did produce the generally desired "Awww", however.) One thing that I think was handled well is that neither of these characters (Bianca and Wesley) wanted to be first in saying they loved the other. Each, in their own way, makes it clear to the reader that they do. But they never directly, 100%, tell each other.
My one big issue between these two is that we are clued in to why Wesley is the way he is (or at least given a hint as to part of the reason) but we never fully get a real glimpse of what makes Bianca tick. Sure, she got her heart broken by a guy when she was 14. But does that fully explain why she feels that love takes years to develop? It seemed a little too cynical for someone to be thinking that way after one bad experience. It didn't ruin the book for me in any way, but it did leave me scratching my head.
I'm not totally convinced that the whole Toby Tucker thing was necessary, either. She's wanted to be with him for three years and yet she ends up wanting Wesley more? Hmm... I suppose I can understand the idea of a long term crush not ending up satisfying. That is generally how that goes. But it seemed, to a certain extent, like filler. I was far more interested in what happened between Wesley and Bianca and really didn't care about her and Toby as a couple.
Last, I just have to scratch my head and wonder what it is with all of the YA novels using Wuthering Heights as a parallel for what happens with their characters. I mean, I like Wuthering Heights. I just find it a bit odd how often I'm finding it referenced in YA romances.
This book took me a few days to read, but that was more because I was busy then because I lacked interest in it. I loved reading about Bianca and Wesley and I thought that the scenes with her and her friends were good, too. I wasn't quite as convinced about the portrayals of her parents, but that was more of a personal thing. I also wish that the use of The Scarlet Letter had been handled a little better. I know what the book is about but have not read it. I wonder whether I missed something of value because of that.
If you like tales of friendly enemies, The DUFF is a must read. If you've ever felt like the person who fixed everyone else's life while yours stayed stagnant, The DUFF is a must read. If you like characters who tell it like it is, The DUFF is a must read.