One of my favorite thrillers is “Get Out” by Jordan Peele. I wasn’t expecting Peele, a comedian, to create a movie with such an interesting concept about racism and turn it into a horror-comedy. Alyssa Cole’s latest book, “When No One Is Watching,” is considered a hybrid of “Get Out” and the movie “Rear Window,” but in book format. “When No One Is Watching” is a thrilling book about how gentrification, an already sinister concept, can take an even scarier turn for the worse.
Sydney Green is a 30-something African-American resident of a historical Brooklyn neighborhood. While maintaining her mother’s house and garden in the neighborhood, she notices the rapid changes in her neighborhood. The neighborhood hosts a walking tour of the historical area that Sydney helps organize, where she gets a new assistant to help with the tour: Theo. Theo is a caucasian male that recently moved to the neighborhood with his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. As the two delve further into the history of the neighborhood, they dive further into paranoia and fear about potential ill-mannered plans for their neighborhood, at the expense of the residents that have lived there for years.
The story is told from two perspectives: Sydney and Theo. Both narratives provide details that would not be obvious otherwise, however, each narrator has something to hide; they don’t disclose their truths until mid-way through the book. While the story does focus on gentrification, other social justice issues like racial profiling, false accusations based on race, and police brutality are also covered. I appreciated reading about the perspective of the “Black Lives Matter” movement from a black perspective, and having Sydney not be afraid to call out Theo for being “too much” when it comes to being an ally to the movement.
For my 2021 Reading Challenges, I used “When No One Is Watching” for the following prompts and challenges:
- PopSugar Reading Challenge 2021 prompt: A book you have seen on someone’s bookshelf
- Around the Year in 52 Books 2021 prompt: A book about racism or race relations
- Uncorked Reading Challenge 2021 prompt: A book written by a contemporary Black author
- A to Z Reading Challenge 2021 prompt: A book written by a person of a different race than you
- The 52 Book Club 2020 prompt: An author of color
Similar to “‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King,” When No One is Watching starts off slow and then the “thriller” aspect kicks in and doesn’t recede. The pacing didn’t quite match the book, and I was waiting for a long time before the overall plot twist is finally revealed. One thing that also irked me was the community forums for the neighborhood that are discussed in the book; while these forums are meant to keep neighbors in touch and informed, it also shows how petty neighbors can be and how false information can quickly spread. Otherwise, Alyssa Cole wrote a strong book about how gentrification can take a turn for the worse.