- The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Hartinger
The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent HartingerHot
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AL Amy Leibowitz Updated
February 21, 2017
Mobi, EPUB, print
Otto Digmore is a 26-year-old gay guy with dreams of being a successful actor, and he’s finally getting some attention as a result of his supporting role on a struggling sitcom. But he’s also a burn survivor with scars on half his face, and all indications are that he’s just too different to ever find real Hollywood success.
Now he’s up for an amazing new role that could change everything. Problem is, he and his best friend Russel Middlebrook have to drive all the way across the country in order to get to the audition on time.
It’s hard to say which is worse: the fact that so many things go wrong, or that Russel, an aspiring screenwriter, keeps comparing their experiences to some kind of road trip movie.
There’s also the fact that Otto and Russel were once boyfriends, and Otto is starting to realize that he might still have romantic feelings for his best friend.
Just how far will Otto go to get the role, and maybe the guy, of his dreams?
Author Brent Hartinger first introduced the character of Otto Digmore in 2005, in his Lambda Award-winning books about Russel Middlebrook. Back then, Otto was something pretty unusual for YA literature: a disabled gay character.
Now, more than a decade later, Otto is grown up and finally stepping into the spotlight on his own. The Otto Digmore Difference, the first book in a new stand-alone series for adults, is about much more than the challenges of being “different.” It’s also about the unexpected nature of all of life’s journeys, and the heavy price that must be paid for Hollywood fame.
But more than anything, it’s a different kind of love story, about the frustrating and fantastic power of the love between two friends.
Hits every note perfectly
This is the book I didn’t know I needed to read.
First, let’s get this out of the way: It is not a romance in any traditional sense of the word. If you’re looking for something in the vein of couplehood, this isn’t it. But it is about many kinds of love, primarily intimate friendship. It’s about a lot of other things, too. There’s a line where Otto says he wants to make magic. Well, Otto, you got your wish: Your story is pure magic.
This is a book with a Point. Several, in fact. Otto spells things out for us in the first couple of chapters. I won’t spoil it for readers because you really need to hear it in Otto’s voice. Having it laid out in no uncertain terms, some readers might be put off or maybe even find some aspects a bit preachy. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you to keep reading and look deeper. It’s what’s under the surface which makes this absolutely, perfectly brilliant.
I’ll admit that it took me a while to catch on. Once I did, though, I saw that the Point(s) being made are underscored in subtle ways everywhere. Even though this could easily have been (and at first blush is just a little) both a cliched road trip/buddy novel and a parody of one, it’s far more complicated than that.
Otto is a classic unreliable narrator, which is generally true in a first-person book. With Otto, it’s unusual in how difficult it is to tell right away because he’s such a likable character with a good deal of insight. What makes him so lovable is how he’s the best blend of highly self-aware and utterly clueless. His journey of discovery is messy, and as promised by the path of the narrative, there are no easy answers. Despite the familiar landscape and the Screaming Point staring us in the face, we’re not handed a happily-ever-after on a silver platter. Otto makes us work for it, and it’s worth the effort.
I’m not usually one to get personal in a review, but one of the things I appreciated was bringing up a specific aspect of being disabled which sometimes doesn’t get acknowledged. There are feelings many of us have about who we are as people, and I like that the author wasn’t afraid to go there, even at the risk of reaction from readers. It made Otto feel much more genuine to me. He is not a tragedy or a superhero or a perfect disability advocate. I can’t say more without spoilers, but Otto’s discovery of an aspect of how he sees himself rang so true to me that it was almost painful.
Now for what I meant when I said I needed to read this. I have never felt so much like a book was giving me life advice, most of which would be lost on anyone who hasn’t felt the pressures of a creative profession. The whole time, Otto, Russell, and even the cameo appearance characters point out all the ways in which we have to balance what we wish we could do with what we actually have to do. It is beautiful and poignant and hits every pitch just right. More than once, and not even at particularly emotional moments, I was both laughing and crying over what a relief it was to know someone else out there gets it. Obviously, I’m aware that this was not a message personally designed for me. But I can’t help thinking that anyone who has ever known the pain of working in a field which demands different-but-still-mainly-the-same should read this, probably more than once.
I’m glad Otto has more stories to tell us about his life because I still need advice. I can’t wait to see what misadventures he gets up to next. Whatever they are, we can be sure he’ll tell it in his own way, with just the right amount of difference.
For polished storytelling, brilliantly drawn characters, and finely crafted subtext, this gets 5 stars.
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