Saturday, January 8, 2011
There is always a Duff...?
The title of Kody Keplinger's debut novel caught my attention: DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend. I thought to myself, "Ugh! What the heck is this?!" Then I looked at the blurb on the inside jacket and was intrigued. The Duff is that girl in the group of friends- the one who isn't as pretty or tall or thin as the other girls. A beautiful girl can be the Duff, as long as her friends are prettier, taller, or thinner than she is. It's all about who your friends are.
For Bianca Piper, being the Duff was a label she half-expected but was still hurt by. Bianca is a strong young women. Her friends, Jessica and Casey, are endearing and the three of them get along well enough in high school. When Wesley, the hottest guy in school and the leading jerk/woman user/abuser of the school, comes up to her and calls her the Duff, she unceremoniously dumps her Cherry Coke in his face. She plays it off as if she doesn't care, but inside she can't stop think about the label: Duff.
When Jessica's brother comes into town- Bianca's first love who broke her heart when it turned out he was sleeping with her and still had a girlfriend- Bianca can't tell her friends why she is so upset. They still don't know she was ever involved with Jessica's brother. On an impulse, Bianca kisses Wesley. When they are partnered up on a school project by chance, Bianca is desperate to limit their contact as much as possible, but that might not be possible. She planned on bringing him to her house, but her father is not taking the impending divorce well. In fact, he starts drinking heavily after 18 years of being sober. Out of necessity, Bianca agrees to go to Wesley's house. Out of anger, Bianca ends up sleeping with Wesley. She can't believe what she has done, but at the same time, it feels really good to be with Wesley.
Over the next month or so, they continue meeting up at his house since his absentee parents are nowhere to be seen and her father is too drunk to know where she is. While the relationship may have begun as a physical contract only, Bianca and Wesley quickly realize they have more in common than they realize- namely no one else to confide in about their family problems. When it appears Wesley is enjoying Bianca's company in addition to the company of other ladies, she tells him to stuff it, but Wesley won't give up. Even when Bianca tries to move on with a nice, safe, albeit boring and obnoxious, new guy, Wesley won't leave her alone. In fact, when he catches her with this new guy, he almost seems hurt. But his true colors shine when he is confronted with the true reality of her father's alcoholic rages. Wesley will protect Bianca even if he can't admit how much he cares about her and how much she cares about him.
Wow. Don't even know where to begin with this one except, Wow. I am not going to lie or mislead you, this book has a lot of choice language, quite a bit of sex, and situations most adults are simply not comfortable talking about in relation to teenagers (even though we all know it happens). As I got about halfway through, I found myself absolutely shocked by the nature of the book- gritty, severely honest, and no BS. In fact I couldn't believe an adult wrote something so honest! Then I looked on the back flap to see that the author is actually only 18! Of course! No adult would speak to young adults this way- only another young adult could!
And thank the Gods she did! Young women need to hear this stuff. They need to know they aren't alone. They need to understand their insecurities are the same insecurities we have all felt. The idea of the Duff is painful and honest, probably because it hits home with such a strong right hook. I know I feel like the Duff with my friends all the time (because they are beautiful, strong, incredible women), but there is more to the idea of the Duff than just one girl's insecurities. In this book, Bianca is assumed to be the Duff, but in fact, her friends Jessica and Casey also feel like the Duff of their little threesome. Sometimes, when you feel like the lesser of the collective, it is hard to imagine the others feeling the same way. This life lesson is one that is invaluable to young women. Sure, I know we all feel insecure, but even my beautiful, strong, independent friends have insecurities. I might see them as strong and impenetrable, but they aren't. Knowing this makes the Duff label less like a stigma and more like girl power- we choose to own our insecurities as well as our strengths and talents. We aren't perfect and we are fine with that. Sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, but we can share that with our friends because they do too. Being the Duff is about being a woman, good and bad.
This book does have fairly mature language and situations, but it is nothing most teens (save the sheltered and the Amish) haven't already seen, heard, and sometimes lived. I think the adults recommending this book should be aware of the nature of this book and make the decision as to whether it is worth the benefits of such a book to give it to children/students. Personally, I think it is absolutely worth it. The mature circumstances in this book are not gratuitous or overdone, they are simply the nature of adolescence as it is today. We can choose to keep it from our kids in a healthy, empowering medium such as this, but we can't shelter them from everything. Personally, I would rather they saw these situations and related to them here, with an empowering moral, than to only hear about them on the school bus or in the hallways. I applaud Keplinger for taking such a stand and putting in a book for young adults what young adults want to hear and should hear. Brava!