Title: When No One Is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Length: 8.5 hours (368 pages)
Publisher: HarperAudio; William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Recommended for fans of: social justice, conspiracy theories
The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?
While this fell a bit short of my expectations, it was an interesting and important book that I recommend for the way it portrays racism in America.
When No One Is Watching reveals the sinister side of gentrification. Sydney, a Brooklyn native, is disturbed by subtle and sudden changes in her neighborhood that threaten the local Black community: longstanding businesses and longtime neighbors disappear without a trace, to be replaced just as quickly by white people. As she investigates the neighborhood’s rich history to preserve it from whitewashing with the help of unlikely ally Theo, a new white neighbor with a shady past, they discover a chilling connection to the disappearances.
The story suffers from issues of pacing and genre identity. It is not the thriller it’s marketed as, and it almost feels like two different books. The first 75% of the book feels like contemporary fiction with a subtle mystery. Yes, it’s suspenseful, but it’s definitely a slow burn. The last 25% takes a shocking turn with fast-paced, heart-racing action that borders on horror, reminiscent of Get Out. I really enjoyed the ending, but it was a jarring twist, and I wish the story had a bit more resolution. There is also a romantic subplot (unsurprising since Alyssa Cole is a romance writer) but I thought it was unnecessary.
What makes this book so chilling is that as much as I’d like to say its events are far fetched, it feels entirely realistic and possible. This book is incredibly timely, and even though it’s many components didn’t fit together seamlessly, I still recommend it for fans of conspiracy theories, social justice, and true crime podcasts.
Thank you to HarperAudio and Libro.fm for the gifted ALC