Saturday, September 18, 2010

REVIEW: The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Keplinger, K.  (2010).  The Duff:  Designated Ugly Fat Friend.  New York:  Poppy.

277 pages.

Appetizer:  Seventeen-year-old Bianca was sitting out during all of the dances at the club that her two best friends dragged her to when, Wesley, the hottest and sluttiest guy from school informs her that she is the Duff (AKA the Designated Ugly Fat Friend) out of her trio of best friends.

Bianca vows not to be bothered by Wesley's words, but after she learns that her mother won't be returning home anytime soon, she begins to worry that her father, a recovering alcoholic, might return to his worst habit, she finds herself in need of a distraction.  That distraction comes in the form of using Wesley and by making out with him.  Even though Bianca feels dirty after their encounter, soon enough she is repeatedly sleeping with him in secret.

For Bianca, being a secret is nothing new, the one boy she has ever loved kept her a secret as well.  And now he's coming back into town with his fiancee.  With all the parts of her life that are upsetting her, Bianca may not be able to leave Wesley's bed ever again.

The DUFF is getting a lot of rave reviews around the internets (and also as the occasional blogger acknowledges, some hate from the anal-judgey, pitchfork-wielding crowd on Amazon over the swearing and how far the multiple sex scenes push toward being explicit.  But hey, anal-judges, some teens do have sex (and by "some" I mean most).  For good and for bad reasons.  So, it's nice to see a book that explores some of those motives.  At least throughout the entire book, the characters are having SAFE sex.  There are condoms EVERYWHERE!).

I found the book to be refreshing because it shares an experiences that are only occasionally explored separately and rarely bound together:  Body image, self-esteem, class, name calling, the different ways guys and girls are perceived when they're promiscuous, parents getting divorced and being left with an alcoholic parent.  There's even a brief tangent into discussing arguments in support of gay marriage.  *wipes brow*  It's a lot to take on.

But I absolutely loved Biana as a character.  She felt very real.  I loved how complex she was.  Readers can relate to her because her concerns and worries are often their own.  Then, towards the end of the book, there's even an opportunity for escapism when a love triangle rears its three giant heads.

I have to admit though, the ending did feel a wee bit abrupt.  Very well-written, bringing together the lose ends (if not quite making a pretty bow), but still ABRUPT!  Plus *very small vague spoiler* a female character randomly tripped at the end of the book to have a love interest pick her up.  WHY?!  WHY?!  WHY?!  Why are so many girls being portrayed as suddenly losing their ability to walk when a guy is near.  I don't understand (but I do blame Bella Swan *shakes fist in Twilight's direction).  Can't girls be coordinated AND get the guy?  Internets, I am confused.  Sure in freshman year, a mere week after I started dating my first boyfriend, I did almost walk into an electrical pole while talking to him and my friends.  Okay, so it wasn't almost.  I walked into the stupid electrical pole.  But it was right beside the sidewalk.  And there were too many of us walking together for us all to fit on said sidewalk.  But even with walking into said giant, foot-wide pole, I did not fall!  There was no hero necessary to pick up a would-be damsel in distress.  The boyfriend laughed.  I laughed too!  Balance was maintained by all!  Is it asking too much that girls in books get to stay on their feet too.

Also, whenever I do finish a romantic book or movie, I can't help but think about the couple as eventually becoming parents who must explain to their future-children how mommy and daddy met.  Although Bianca makes it clear in the book that she is not "looking for a husband or whatever" (p. 243), I still couldn't help but worry for her and the tale she'd have to spin if it *did* work out.

Here's how I think her story would have to go as she sat down to tell her seven-year-old daughter how she and Daddy-Dear met:  (MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW!)

Well Princess, Mommy hated daddy.  He insulted her by saying she was her friends' "designated ugly fat friend."  Then he nicknamed her Duffy for the next month to rub her face in it.  And Mommy's skin crawled like icky bugs were on her whenever daddy got near.  But after learning about grandpappy and grandmommy's divorce, Mommy freaked out and ended up kissing daddy.  (Yay!  *jazz hands*)  And although the experience made Mommy feel icky all over for hours and hours after, Mommy later slept with daddy.  Again and again.  In fact, I'd say Mommy was addicted to having sex with him.  But as our secret affair went on, Mommy slowly started to develop feelings for him and Mommy was jealous when Daddy flirted with other girls.  Then!  After Daddy saved Mommy from being abused by drunk Grandpappy, we truly connected.  So, Mommy freaked out and dumped daddy and started dating the perfect, nerdy, gentlemanly guy that she'd had a crush on for aaaaaaall of high school.  That was fun, but Mommy was still torn.  And Mommy became aware of how she was putting herself at risk.  And how she could have become pregnant.  Because Mommy wasn't ready to have you yet, Babydoll.  And so Mommy decided to be more careful about having sex in the future.  And then Daddy sent her flowers!  And that nice, gentlemanly boy figured out that Daddy and Mommy weren't over each other.  So, he sent Mommy over to daddy.  And then Mommy tripped.  *Oh no!*  But Daddy helped her back up and new what type of soda she preferred so we've been together ever since!  Yay!  Don't get addicted to running away, sex or alcohol.  It runs in the family.  Big kiss for Mommy!  *Mwa*  Sweet dreams, Buttercup.
That poor, traumatized, imaginary, future child.


I hope I didn't sound mean in that spoiler-tastic "what if" scenario.  That wasn't my intention.  Because I really enjoyed this book, the conclusions Bianca reaches about the people in her life.  And not only does this book share an experience often overlooked in fiction, but it is well-written by an author who is still a teenager herself (she answers some fun questions about the book here).  At eighteen or nineteen, there is no way I could have written such an enlightened and honest account of high school that was so fair to the secondary-characters as The Duff was.  Major props to Kody Keplinger.

And Honestly, since she did such an amazing job, I had to fight my base instinct to hate her a little for writing such an awesome book at such a young age.

I wish I'd been so certain that I wanted to write YA at that age.  It wasn't until pretty much my last year of undergrad that I paced back and forth in front of the children's section of the East Lansing Barnes & Noble, wanting to go in, but also not wanting to be mistaken for a pedophile.

Because any adult who walks into a children's section alone MUST be there for nefarious purposes.

(NOTE:  I have since gotten over this feeling, mostly because I worked in a bookstore for two years and learned that, despite the shelves dividing adult land from children's world and the sign over the only way into the children's section, adults would not be immediately tagged or given scarlet "Creepy"emblems just for crossing the threshold to buy books.  It never occurred to me that people would just assume I was a nanny/teacher/parent.  No, my mind immediately went to the Bad Place.

What I saw every time I even thought about entering a
children's' section
This is something that I sometimes have to help my undergraduate students get over as well.  They are education majors who plan to work with kids.  But they too feel weird going into the children's section.

Do we all feel secretly creepy when we go in spaces designated for children?

I think maybe my problem was that I'd ever left that section.  Around fourth grade, I didn't want to be thought a little kid anymore, so I hung out in the fiction section (completely ignoring the teen section).  I didn't realize that I had actually been saying goodbye to Never-Never Land and that my ability to return would involve finding magic fairy dust, abandoning my preconceived notions about the type of adults who hang out in kids' sections, flying straight on til morning, and giving up two years of my life to remind people that, "You can save 10% if you have a Barnes & Noble membership."

But it's okay, because I live in the children's section now.

P.S.  In a non-creepy way.  That's clear, right?  How non-creepy I am?

Dinner Conversation:

"This was getting old.
Once again, Casey and Jessica were making complete fools of themselves, shaking their asses like dancers in a rap video.  But I guess guys eat that shit up, don't they?  I could honestly feel my IQ dropping as I wondered, for the hundredth time that night, why I'd let them drag me here again" (p. 1).

"I've got to hand it to you; you're smarter and more stubborn than most girls I talk to.  But I'm here for a little more than witty conversation." He moved his attention to the dance floor.  "I actually need your help.  You see, your friends are hot.  And you, darling, are the Duff."
"Is that even a word?"
"Designated.  Ugly.  Fat.  Friend," he clarified.  "No offense, but that would be you."
"I am not the--!"
"Hey, don't get defensive.  It's not like you're an ogre or anything, but in comparison..." He shrugged his broad shoulders.  "Think about it.  Why do they bring you here if you don't dance?" (pp. 5-6).

"Then I did a really fucked-up thing.  My only excuse is that I was under an unbelievable amount of stress, and I spotted an outlet.  I needed something to distract me--anything far away from my parents' drama--just for a second.  And when I saw my chance I didn't stop to think about how much I'd regret it later.  An opportunity sat on the bar stool beside me, and I lunged at it.  Literally.
I kissed Wesley Rush" (p. 29).

"I looked at Jessica again, remembering how small and weak she'd seemed that day.  Not cute.  Not pretty.  Just kind of pathetic.  The Duff.  Now she was beautiful.  Voluptuous and adorable and...well, sexy.  Any guy--except Harrison, unfortunately--would want her.  But the strange thing was, she didn't look all that different.  Not on the surface, at least.  She'd been curvy and blond even then.  So what had changed?
How could one of the most gorgeous girls I'd ever met have been the Duff?  How did that logic even work?  It was like Wesley calling me sexy and Duffy at the same time.  It just didn't make sense.
Was it possible that you didn't have to be fat or ugly to be the Duff?  I mean, Wesley had said, that night at the Nest, that Duff was a comparison.  Did that mean even somewhat attractive girls could be Duffs?" (pp. 110-111).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

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