Review first published 24/10/12
OTOLI – Have you been there?
Social outcast ALICE TURNER went there to escape the constant bullying from the Populars. She is befriended by Jenny; an enigmatic waitress who seems to be stuck in the past.
As the Populars begin to reap the wrath of a faithful friend, suspicions build in Alice’s mind. Why does Jenny keep mementoes that are four years old? And why does Alice feel that she is to blame for the downfall of her enemies?
But friendship is a two-way deal as Alice soon discovers. After breaking her promise to Jenny, she faces a far worse foe than before. Alice is forced to make choices on which her future and that of others will depend; whether or not she knows it. Moreover, she will have to find courage to escape the ultimate bully – her best friend.
You know when you identify with a character in a book and say “I’m like him/her” or “I know what he/she feels like”. Well, with this book I can genuinely say that to a point.
I initially found out about this book due to the author, Bryony Allen, becoming a friend through Goodreads and I became interested in the book’s theme of bullying. The reason for this is because I am a bullying “survivor” (I prefer to use this term rather than “victim”) who was bullied physically, verbally and emotionally throughout primary and secondary school.
The book is primarily seen through the third person points of view of main characters Alice and Keiran. Both characters are marginalised through bullying – Alice due to the actions of a school clique called “The Populars” and Keiran from his peers and parents due to his parents’ desire for him to receive an education which caters to his intelligence.
Alice and Keiran stumble on OTOLI, a haven away from their day-to-day existence which is run by seventeen year-old Jenny. It’s designed to their tastes, serves their favourite food and drinks and plays their favourite music.
The book follows Alice and Keiran as they develop a friendship with Jenny. However, alongside this developing friendship comes a price with inexplicable incidents happening to Alice and Keiran’s tormentors.
The book’s main theme of bullying is treated sensitively and without being sensationalised through three perspectives.
Alice and Keiran present the first perspective as people who are people who are being bullied – both are presented as people who are on the outside looking in, who feel powerless to act against what’s happening to them and who just want to be accepted as other people are.
The second perspective is from the point of view of the bully mainly “The Populars” who are presented as people who use the power they gain through bullying to gain influence and notoriety. They don’t physically bully but taunt, tease and use a campaign of hate to achieve their aims at Alice’s expense – something that is more destructive.
The third perspective is that of Jenny. She is the most interesting perspective down to her attitude and personality along with the supernatural/paranormal aspect of the novel. Jenny is very much the character around whom the novel hinges as she seeks to become an increasing influence in Alice and Keiran’s lives by becoming their “best friend”. This is done by the character becoming an embodiment of the “Good Cop/Bad Cop” routine – she wants to help Alice and Keiran through their troubles by taking direct action against their tormentors and hinting that it was down to the wishes of Alice and Keiran and that the bullies/teachers/tormentors have brought it upon themselves. However, this is part of a longer game for Jenny as you find that she has an ulterior motive for this friendship which is both chilling and tragic.
Some people may feel that it is inappropriate for the supernatural or paranormal aspect to be included as an element in a story which could be seen to trivialise or overshadow a sensitive subject. I can assure readers of this blog that the supernatural/paranormal element serves as a device to heighten the emotions within the storyline through Jenny being a person who wants to gain acceptance and friendship by basically being a genie in a highly emotionally charged bottle – the emotions behind Jenny’s actions are understandable as you follow her story but the means and the ends are morally questionable especially as events build towards the book’s climax.
OTOLI is a book that works on looking to be sympathetic, empowering and chilling in equal measure and, from the perspective of this bullying “survivor”, it’s a book that delivers some food for thought… even for somebody who left school over twenty years ago.
If you would like to find out more about Bryony Allen and her books, please check out her website.