Book reviews

Summer reading #3 – The Otto Digmore Difference

Summer is here. As I’m working on my slightly dystopian YA novel, I can’t help but look at the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. In no particular order I’ll be covering a few of them over the next few weeks. Today: The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Harbinger (@brenthartinger).

(Warning: There might be some mild spoilers!)

The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Hartinger

Since his first novel about Russel Middlebrook (Geography Club) I’ve read all books from Brent Hartinger in these series. His latest novel puts a secondary character (Otto Digmore) in the spotlight after he was first introduced in The Order of the Poison Oak as a fellow camp-counsellor with whom Russel falls in love. Though Otto has popped up in quite a few of Russel’s stories, this is the first time he’s the central character in his own story.

Having read all of of the previous Russel stories, it’s always nice to return to the writing style and particular world of Russel & co. If Brent Hartinger were an Instagram-filter, I’d give him the brightly-coloured-lens-flared one that infuses a picture with warmth and a slight sense of over-the-top-not-fully-realistic-ness. I’m sure there’s a better word for that.

To me the stories about Russel (and now Otto) are always a comfortable and welcome return to see where these characters are now. Even if the story can go to some intense place (e.g. people in large black monster trucks throwing lethal objects out of car windows), there’s always a “nothing will really go wrong” feeling that adds a lightness to the writing. In today’s world, I find this style of writing very welcoming.

Now to the meat of this book, the story of an adult Otto Digmore. Otto who has come to terms with living as someone with scarring due to being a burn survivor. I’m not an expert on this subject matter. At all. But I’ve understood that it causes a lot of trauma, not just physical. It takes a lot for someone to overcome that. It’s nice to see that acknowledged with Otto. His voice comes through and it’s a strong voice. It’s not a teenage angst voice, even though there are elements of it (Russell is the only one who ever really loved him in his teenage years, is something that Otto highlights at one point, for example). But statements like that come across as sincere, since Otto shows he has a maturity (that is sometimes maybe a little unbelievable considering his age) to cope and deal. Or maybe that’s just me and I wasn’t that together yet in my early twenties…

There’s a “fake it ’till you make it” quote in the book somewhere, but that’s also what the book exudes: young gay people can be happy and successful in Hollywood whilst being true to themselves at the same time. In a post-Neil Patrick Harris world (can’t believe his coming-out is over ten years ago), that’s a refreshing message when we consider the situation in Hollywood little over ten years ago.

The only criticism I would give to the story is concerning the love interest. For me, this came out of the blue and didn’t feel earned. It felt more like a Deus Ex Machina moment to give Otto a boyfriend.

In closing, this first story felt like Otto was coming into his own. Just like Russell in the previous books, Otto had some growing up to do and he definitely did.

It’s already been confirmed that there are more books coming in the series. I for one am looking forward to them.

What I liked about the book

  • The speed of the story. It’s definitely a road trip and never loses its flow. The pacing is well done.
  • Like with most books concerning Russel: There’s a message here and there’s a lesson to be learned. The way Otto comes to learn his (with dramatic airport scene included) is much appreciated.

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