My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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.
The DUFF is a story that revolves around labels – how, we, be it teenagers or adults, love to apply labels to others. Defining someone so you can make your world fit into these little zones you create. That is what the movie, if you have seen it, mostly centres around. But the book, it delves beyond that. It goes into how we judge other people by our experiences. At the start of the book, the protagonist, Bianca is an anti-social person, who mostly abhors her peers and is constantly irritated by them. She feels alienated and invisible, and when she gets to know through the school d-bag that she is the weakest link of her circle, the one person who people approach because they want to get the others to know better – she has an identity crisis. Unlike the movie, however, she doesn’t get coaching on how to become popular. No, her path to self-discovery is deeper than that.
At first, her home situation is the main catalyst for her to go running right into the arms of said d-bag. Wesley is a notorious playboy and she feels using him to alleviate her loneliness is right because she doesn’t want the hassle of falling in love ever again. Breaking her heart once made her wary, and at first her relationship with Wesley is purely physical. Despite him wanting to know what she is running from when she comes to him, she refuses to share. Either with him or her best friends – solely because she isn’t the kind of person who relies on others to solve her problems. She thinks she is handling her stress by distracting herself, but when she starts dating another guy and she sees how broken she is, and how she wants to constantly hide it, she realizes that running from her problems is not the way to handle it. She and Wesley have a lot in common, she realizes – using a distraction to drive away loneliness.
The characterization is quite layered in the book, and it made me ponder on how we ourselves escape from our problems. Granted, not everyone escapes in the same way – some have dangerous methods, but maybe sharing your problems and seeing another way could help. The writing brings forth the loneliness quite starkly, making you empathize with her. Eventually, she learns not to judge people by what they seem, or even judge yourself. It has quite a subtle lesson, but is mostly quite sad to read. Not really recommended as a light read, despite what the movie might lead you to believe. On the movie front, by the way, I did love the movie – it was perky and sweet, but I do find the book has a better storyline and characterization.
Received an ARC from Hachette via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion or my review.