The most terrifying books and movies to me, are the ones that could actually happen. In this case, HAVE actually happened. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole is a thriller unlike any I have read before. It is a scary reminder that the worst monsters are real.....and living right next door.
Sydney is a young, Black woman who has been a lifetime resident in one of the brownstones in Gifford Place, a neighborhood of Brooklyn. Theo moves in next door with his ex-girlfriend, Kim. Sydney is skeptical, cynical, and smart, while Theo is the epitome of a woke millennial hipster, Black Lives Matter t-shirt and full beard to boot. Gifford Place has been home to several Black residents for years and Sydney finds creature comfort in the residents who are like family and the storefronts that never change. Shortly after Theo and Kim move in, gentrification sweeps through Gifford Place at an alarming rate. There is a large corporate headquarters slated to move in soon and this seems to be pushing the current residents out and replacing them with snooty, upper class white people. Sydney senses that something is going on and teams up with Theo to get to the bottom of it, but can he be trusted?
I listened to When No One is Watching on audio and highly recommend it. The chapters switch between Sydney and Theo's perspective and there are two narrators in the audiobook that fit these characters so well. The alternating perspectives kept the book moving, but this one is more of a slow burning thriller. It is evident that something is going on in Gifford Place. Sydney's neighbors seem to be disappearing one by one and all of the local establishments she's known over the years, like the bodega down the street and the community garden, are being taken over by hipster white people and large corporations. Sydney is skeptical and a bit paranoid, but rightfully so. Strange things start happening to her and her neighbors, before things come to a head.
What I loved about this book was the slow burning anticipation of finding out what was going on, paired with the unreliable narrators: Sydney and Theo. It is hard to know whether to believe Sydney or be cautious of Theo. Cole is known for her romance novels and master character development, which came through with these characters.
Another major piece I enjoyed about When No One is Watching was how timely and realistic it is. Gentrification is real and it's affects are long lasting and devastating to some established neighborhoods. Increased property tax from updated housing and new businesses push current residents out and leaves them floundering to find a new home. Many older Black generations took pride in owning property, but gentrification has taken that from them. When No One is Watching is like gentrification on steroids, but this does happen. Maybe not to this extreme extent, but it does. The ending goes a bit haywire, but in a good way. It reminded me of the dystopia-ish horror, Lakewood by Megan Giddings (which I highly recommend you read if you liked this one.) Those who say this ending seemed far fetched just need to Google "Tuskegee experiment" to learn it's not far from reality.....
"I need you to channel the confidence of a mediocre white man."
"People bury the parts of history they don't like, pave it over like African cemeteries beneath Manhattan skyscrapers."
"I'm talking paws and claws and he's talking probable cause."
Read if you like:
slow burning thrillers with realistic themes and current social issues
The movie, Get Out
The book, Lakewood by Megan Giddings