The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Summary: 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 “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that 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.

My Thoughts: I found out about The DUFF at Angie’s blog, where she gave it a glowing review. YA novels about high school have become kind of hit-or-miss for me. I either really like them or am so bored by them that I can’t finish.

The DUFF definitely exceeded my expectations and as I was reading it I was making note of several things I was very impressed by and that I wanted to tell the author about.

1. I love the narration. Bianca’s voice is spot on and while I’m sure the author has probably received some flack from parent’s groups or uptight reviewers about the expletives, I think it was pitch perfect and never overdone. Teenagers talk a certain way, end of story.

2. The friendships. I’m not sure why this is such an issue, but in most of the YA novels I read that are aimed at girls, very rarely do we see much positive and fleshed-out interaction between two girls that are friends! It’s a problem. So many novels are too focused on the romance between The Girl and The Guy. While The DUFF definitely has romance, I was still very impressed by how real and unique the friendship between Bianca, Jessica, and Casey was. As well, Jessica and Casey weren’t just two blah-blah supporting characters, but had depth of their own. I appreciated that.

3. I wish I had read this book when I was in high school. The way the book dealt with sex and the horrible misogynist stereotypes forced on teenage girls as a result of sex was great. Having sex doesn’t make you a whore (even in a purely hookup relationship) and girls going around calling each other whores and sluts is probably one of the worst things about high school–and so many girls don’t even realize how it hurts themselves, as women, to do this. I wish I had realized this while in high school. I participated in this vicious cycle as a teenager and I didn’t see the light until college. I was frankly delighted with the way this was handled in The DUFF. Not preachy or full of it.

Can’t wait to read Keplinger’s next novel, Shut Out.

Author Website: http://kodykeplinger.com/

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

cover hold still by nina lacoeurRating: 6 out of 10

Caitlin and Ingrid have been best friends forever–the kind of best friends who are joined at the hip, tell each other all their secrets, and sort of live in their own little world.

After Ingrid’s unexpected suicide, Caitlin is left drifting.  When school starts, she has no drive for anything, not even her photography class, which used to be her favorite period in school. What’s worse, her photography teacher, Ms. Delani, who used to encourage Caitlin immensely in her artistic efforts, seems completely uninterested in anything Caitlin feels or has to say about the aftermath of Ingrid’s death.

Hold Still chronicles Caitlin’s reemergence over the school year. Slowly she comes out of her shell thanks to Dylan, a transfer student who is the first openly lesbian girl at Caitlin’s small town high school, and by reading Ingrid’s journal.

Ingrid’s journal, apparently purposefully left behind in Caitlin’s room, chronicles her descent into depression, problems with her medication, her heartbreak over boys, and her unwillingness to let anyone know how sad she was truly feeling.

I thought LaCour did a fairly good job creating a narrative around the issue of teenage suicide, and Caitlin’s reactions and her recovery seemed realistic and was paced well. I liked the pages of Ingrid’s journal placed throughout the novel, and the ending was good.

I didn’t think the relationship between Caitiln and her photography teacher Ms. Delani was at all realistic–and whenever Ms. Delani spoke her dialogue sounded like it had been straight lifted out of an art criticism review or a teaching manual. She wasn’t real to me, and didn’t make as much of an impact as I feel the author tried to have her be.

I know this novel is aimed towards younger (middle school) readers but it still seemed a little simplistic to me at times. It didn’t really engage me all that well, hence the lower rating and why it took me so long to finish.

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

COVER twenty boy summer by sarah ocklerRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: “Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“Okay.”
“Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?”
“Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?”

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in ZanzibarBay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

This debut novel by Sarah Ockler that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

Commentary: I ended up really enjoying this novel even though I didn’t have very high expectations in the beginning.

Good coming-of-age, young adult, dealing with grief story.