The DUFF (by Kody Keplinger)

19 12 2012

duffThe cat’s gonna go old school here and talk about The Message. Yeah, yeah, we all know by now that it’s not done anymore to discuss The Message of books or even worse to discuss questions like “what is the moral of the story?” or because books (and by extension their authors) have their own raison d’être and discussing such petty things like Message or Moral… big no-no…  But, considering that an author puts something out there, for everyone to read, I figure they’re OK with people critiquing and criticizing what they have to say. So what does Kody Keplinger have to say with The DUFF?

Bianca is our 17-year-old protagonist, she’s what one would call “snarky”. She’s smart, has 2 very good friends – both of whom she considers to be way prettier than she is – but doesn’t really think she’s got all that much in common with the rest of the teenage population. When her two girlfriends go out clubbing, she’d rather spend time talking to the barman than partying with her friends. She doesn’t get why girls swoon over boys and why they don’t use their common sense more. She’s had her heart trampled on by an older guy when she was I dunno, 14, and ever since she has issues with love. Then one evening, the high-school man-whore, Wesley Rush, calls her the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – and would like her two hot friends to see him associating with her, because that’s a guarantee way for him to get them to have sex with him. If they see him taking pity on her, they’ll think it’s adorable and … well, you get it. Obviously Bianca is furious, as she rightly should be, but then the story takes on this almost cartoonish twist in that Bianca starts having random sex with Wesley…to get things out of her system… As a distraction. And Wesley is her drug. That she can’t get enough of. She’s like addicted. So there. That’s the story.

Silly (and predictable!) story aside, I can get the whole frustration thing for not being the one that gets noticed in a group of friends. This is 100% teenage reality. The way that Bianca felt after this is indeed very pertinent. Every teenager at some point will feel like the odd one out in a group. Part of growing up is the whole idea of figuring out what your “issues” are and then either working through them or learning how do make the best of things despite them. But what does Bianca do? She works out her problems by escaping from them WHILE HAVING SEX WITH THE GUY WHO POINTED THEM OUT TO HER AND KEEPS ON DOING SO. The guy she hated even before she called him the DUFF. And she feels dirty after having had sex with him (Bianca: “What is wrong with me?”). The guy who keeps on calling her Duffy, who keeps on insulting her, even when they’re having their escapist no strings attached sex thing. Who she keeps on hating. Until of course she doesn’t anymore, because we all know that good girls like bad boys that are no good to them. Now, if that stereotype doesn’t infuriate you enough, then let’s get to The Message: it’s OK to use a person – sexually – if you have issues. Also, Bianca seems to be thinking she’s “ a feminist”, chastising her female friends for gushing and lusting after boys, but clearly she has no clue whatsoever what the word means. Does Kody Keplinger? Oh, I did read the ending too, of course, where both protagonists come to an insight about their issues, but yet again the message is: it’s ok to do so, as long as you feel remorseful afterwards. What Kody Keplinger’s message also entails is that sex is something to feel disgusted by (Bianca felt dirty after the sex, the sex was a coping mechanism, etc). And that I’m sure, is not something she set out to do. I’m sure in her opinion, she’s being open about teenagers’ sexuality, what with Bianca being on the pill and them using condoms (thank the heavens!).

Anyway, let’s not dwell on the Message-thing too much, and just try to avoid that other elephant in the room…  Let’s move on to the writing. And that, ladies and gentleman, reads like it was written by a high school senior. Oopsie…I did just talk about that elephant, didn’t I? Yes, Kody Keplinger wrote this when she was 17, and to be honest, it also reads like it was written by a 17-year-old. The language – though obviously you can’t get a more Authentic Teenage Voice then this – is too obvious, there’s very little subtlety in the descriptive parts of the book. When you do it right I don’t need another adverb to tell me that something was said “sarcastically”. The whole book actually oozes inexperience: plot threads that are wrapped up too neatly (the whole Toby thing, WTF?); issues that are thrown out there, then dealt with very carelessly (the OCD, the alcoholism, the divorce), characters that are flat and hardly developed.

I’m sorry, but these are the sorts of things that should be weeded out by a good editor. Don’t be taken aback by the fact that the writer is “only 17”. Just try to get the best story out of the writer as possible, the best possible language. And if this is the best Kody Keplinger can do then age 17 or age 35,… that doesn’t matter anymore.   The DUFF is nothing but an unoriginal, badly executed, teenage fantasy.



One response

26 12 2012
Let’s Get Lost (by Sarra Manning) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] romance), Sarra Manning’s take on it sounds fresher than e.g. in a book like Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF.  There’s a case to be made for the fact that Isabel is also just escaping the reality of her […]

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