The Duff – Kody Keplinger

Yet again a film trailer has led me to read a book, this time a Mae Whitman flick called ‘The Duff’. I was in need of a chick flick last weekend and, failing to find anything decent on Netflix, I resorted to buying a book for my kindle app on my laptop/tablet.

I know. I can’t quite believe myself either. Reading a book from a screen is plain weird, but when I just needed YA mean girls-esque escapism I wasn’t going to fuss about it.

This book is nothing like the movie plot, which I have not seen but thanks to the joys of Wikipedia I now know every detail I could possibly desire.

What became clear within minutes of reading is that Hollywood have seriously toned down the content of the book and changed it to be more like a teen rom-com. Bringing a little more of Mean Girls and less sex. Also substituted a depressed alcoholic father with the awesomeness that is Allison Janney, who I suspect will be the reason I watch the movie.

In the original tale then we have Bianca, a high schooler who is deeply cynical about love, teenage relationships, and PDA (public displays of affection). She is told by popular-but-slutty Wesley, the hot guy at school, that she is The DUFF. The ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’ – basically the one who makes her friends look good by comparison. This earns him, quite rightly, a cherry coke in the face.

However Bianca is going through some turbulence at home, with an absentee mother and a father turning to alcohol, she needs distraction. Wesley becomes that distraction, and to the detriment of her friendships she turns to him more often to escape a world that is slowly tumbling down. As she gets more involved she realises Wesley may not be such a bad person after all, with a lot of home issues himself, and perhaps he may be the one for her…

This book felt quite honest. The voice was definitely that of a teenager, and I was unsurprised to find out Keplinger was 17 when she wrote it. It was frank and quite refreshing, without being crude or graphic. The technique needed work for sure, but actually the book held together and the loose ends that were created were tied up neatly. It felt like it wanted to be a screenplay toward the end, with a Hollywood ending and a didn’t-we-all-learn-a-good-lesson vibe. But I still liked it enough that I read it in a morning.

The main characters, Bianca and Wesley, had the chemistry and the kinship of any great ‘love/hate’ relationships. They were both trying so hard to be grown ups and yet were entirely teenage, Wesley living alone and using sex to distract from his problems and Bianca doing almost the same as she failed to communicate properly with either parent.

The supporting characters were interesting and had their own woes to contend with – the best friend who is model pretty but her tallness in fact made her feel like the ‘ugly’ one of the group. The father whose alcoholism created an emotionally fraught scene which juxtaposed with a previous calm, I found that to be quite a clever bit of writing.

Even so, this isn’t prize winning literature but it has heart and a frankness that I enjoyed. Worth a read, and I suspect probably a more realistic message than the film adaptation will prove to be.

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