There are quite a few films I didn’t see at the cinema because I hadn’t read the book first, and there are plenty I still haven’t seen because that book is helplessly floundering in the vast sea of my TBR pile. But I watched the film adaptation of The Duff before I knew it was based on a book. It wasn’t a film I expected to like, I just thought it would pass the time, but I was surprised how much I connected with the main character Bianca. I thought we shared a lot of the same qualities, and even when she was being stubborn and unreasonable, I liked her. So when I started reading the book I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t the voice of the sarcastic, flawed girl I was expecting. Book Bianca had animosity dripping from every word, but it seemed wrong to judge the book based on what I had come to expect from the film. Characters change and grow through stories, so I was expecting a similar journey for Bianca.
It was a relief to find that the book and film were very different. It wasn’t the story I already knew the ending to. Both have a similar starting point, and the concept of ‘The Duff’ is at the centre of the story, but while the film portrays Wesley and Bianca’s relationship as an almost friendly rivalry, the book gives them a darker, more complicated relationship. It also focuses more on how damaging labels can be, how boxed in we feel when we’re defined by one aspect of ourselves. The casual names we throw around can have long-lasting implications, and Wesley’s use of the term ‘Duffy’ as an endearment reinforces all the bad feelings Bianca has about herself.
Bianca and Wesley are both afraid of being emotionally vulnerable and use physical intimacy to hide from their feelings. Despite Wesley’s obvious privilege he has absent parents and a disapproving grandmother who tries to restrict his access to his younger sister. At first he seemed to have little substance but as the book progressed it became more apparent that he was testing boundaries that weren’t there, compensating for the feelings of neglect with casual sex. I could see why he acted like he did, and while I didn’t necessarily agree, I understood. Bianca was harder to empathise with. It felt like her parents marital issues and her father’s alcoholism were used to excuse her behaviour. They felt more like plot devices than characters. Her mother suddenly turned up at a pivotal moment, when she had spent months actively avoiding her home, and it seemed a little convenient. It would have been interesting to see their relationship developed more because they are similar in a lot of ways. It didn’t really seem like Bianca grew in the way Wesley did, and I think that’s what frustrated me the most.
You don’t have to like a character to enjoy a book, but I couldn’t get into The Duff, as much as I wanted to.