**Thank you to Hachette Children’s Books via NetGalley for a digital ARC of this novel**
So let’s just say I’d heard lots and lots about THE DUFF before I read it. I’d heard good things; I’d heard bad things; and I’d even heard lukewarm things. Hearing that much is pretty close to going in blind because it was, truly, a wide spectrum of opinion. Also: No, I have not seen the film adaptation, which I’ve heard is quite different from the novel anyways, so I see it as entirely irrelevant.
As with any book there are things I did and didn’t enjoy. If I enjoyed anything the most, it was how in command Bianca is of her own sexuality and body. She’s upfront about what she does and doesn’t want, and actually is the one to initiate — quite authoritatively — the sexual relationship she carries on with Wesley in this novel. It shouldn’t feel rare or like a novelty, but it kind of is. As for Bianca as a heroine? Let’s make something abundantly clear: there is a different between snarky and acidic. Bianca is acidic. She’s seemingly deliberately negative, acerbic, and derisive about almost everything in this novel — that does not for a likable heroine make. Now, do heroines have to be likable? No. But when they’re bitter about 99% of the people/places/things that take place during the course of the story, it makes them frustratingly annoying. I actually think I might have rather read a book about her friend Casey, who was one of the only characters that appeared to be even a hint of three-dimensional in this novel.
Also, let’s address the elephant in the room: slut-shaming. If there’s anything I had heard a lot about in relation to this novel, it was the topic of slut-shaming. There’s a lot of it in this book — every girl slut-shames just about every other girl character. It would seem startling except, well, this is an unfortunate aspect of the world in which we live: that degradation of women based on their sexual proclivities and activity. I won’t speak for high schoolers, no longer being one, but I can say that this is something that continues even beyond the world of high school. It happens in college; it happens after college. I’m twenty-three years old and can guarantee you I still hear girls slut-shaming each other at our age. It’s appalling. I’m not averse to this book tackling the topic, nor including it — I just wish it took a consistent stand on the issue.
This book is to slut-shaming what Rihanna’s song is to S&M — nothing. It throws it in there and in your face, but it doesn’t discuss it in any insightful way. It doesn’t say: I support this or I don’t support this. THE DUFF, to it’s credit, throws some things in there, but it’s inconsistent and contradictory. It’s like: only some people can be slut-shamed, others no way. As a reader, that’s very frustrating to me because I want the author to have an opinion, to take a stance. I don’t even need it to be a stance with which I agree — anything solid would be good!
Okay, now that we’ve finished this discussion, there are some things to enjoy about this book. For all her flaws, I cared about Bianca and wanted her to succeed. I wanted Wesley to show the kind of young man he was beyond the playboy exterior. And I wanted for everything to work out in the end.
This is the kind of book that divides people very strongly, and yet here I am on the fence about it. I say read it yourself and see what you think of it.