When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
When I heard Alyssa Cole had written a thriller, I knew I had to get my hands on it! I love her Reluctant Royals series, and I’m a big fan of thrillers so I couldn’t wait! I didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole did not disappoint.
Originally, I started reading this as a break from the heavy subject matter of my gender studies graduate degree. Let me just tell you, it did not work. I spend a lot of time reading about social Justice and social politics, and, well, the topic of this thriller is racism and gentrification. So, no break for me! But damn, was it a good read.
To give you an idea, this book has a slightly toned down (read: slightly) Get Out feel. A story of social horror, really, When No One Is Watching is the story of Gifford Place, Brooklyn and the people who live there.
Sydney moved home after a divorce and to take care of her sick mother. She’s proud of her neighborhood and its history, and doesn’t look too kindly upon the white couples moving in around her or the real estate agents that keep harassing her.
The neighbourhood is planning a block party at their community garden, and Sydney is surprised to see a man named Theo at the meeting. He’s a white man and half of the couple who moved in across the street from her. As each day passes, things at Gifford place seem to be getting worse. White couples keep moving into homes no one saw anyone move out of. Things just aren’t adding up.
This is both a hard and an easy read. Cole’s writing is so effortless you barely even notice it. It feels like you’re in the story with the characters (which in this case was horrifying). The topic, however, is hard to digest. I’m a white woman from a middle-class background. I may not be like the Kims of the world, but my position is much closer to hers than Sydney’s. A lot of the real history Cole highlights was shocking to me, and it shouldn’t have been. The reality of Sydney’s situation shocked me too, and it shouldn’t have. This one is going to stick with me.
I was hooked right away, but it took a while to convince me it was a thriller. A lot of it in the beginning felt closer to general fiction or even romance. But as things get slowly woven into place, a chill will creep up your spine. It can’t be! (Yes, it can). And it will stay there.
I highly recommend this read, especially if you’re not familiar with the horrors of gentrification (and you like thrillers). However, I wouldn’t recommend this read if you’re not in the right headspace for it. I devoured the book, but now I’m sitting here reflecting on it and it’s terrible to think about. It would be so terrible to live it, I can’t even imagine. But people have lived it. And people do.