In this beautifully written YA tale, Bryony Allen takes us on a journey into the lonely world of bullied teenager Alice Turner, and the solace she finds in a strange little cafe called Otoli. The waitress who works there, Jenny (who always seems to be scrubbing at something on a tabletop whenever Alice enters) offers her apparently unconditional friendship, and seems to understand the despair Alice feels at being a social outcast at school.
However, Jenny's friendship is only apparently unconditional, and as the novel progresses we realise, along with Alice, that there is much more to her new-found friend than meets the eye.
What I particularly loved about OTOLI is the way Bryony Allen draws the reader into Alice's world as inexorably as Alice herself is drawn into Jenny's. There's no spoiler in saying that a strong thread of the supernatural runs through the story, which Allen handles with a great subtlety and finesse which calls to mind the work of Susan Hill.
As the earlier review notes, Allen's own work as a teacher has clearly given her a profound and sympathetic understanding of the often tortuous journey from childhood to adulthood. OTOLI deserves to find a wide readership, and should certainly be in every school library.
An additional note: the book is published by the small indie press Pneuma Springs, and I was very impressed with the production quality. Not one typo in the entire book, which is more than can be said for many big publishers.
Highly recommended on all counts.