By Alyssa Cole
Rating: 4/5 Stairs
Reading the blurb on the back of the book, I expected a thriller. This book is so much more. Wow.
Sydney is a Black woman who has grown up in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She’s recently moved back home to care for her ailing mother. When we meet Sydney, she is very concerned about all of her neighbors who are quickly selling up and leaving the neighborhood, and the new white neighbors moving in. Sydney is sensing the change in her neighborhood that has been subtlety happening for months, but now is becoming very stark. Stores going out of business and being replaced overnight, her remaining Black neighbors being singled out and harassed by police for things that maybe they didn’t even do.
The thriller piece is there…it’s definitely a slow burn that ramps up to a fast-paced ending. But that wasn’t the part I liked about this book. Ms. Cole’s storytelling is fantastic, and she packs SO MUCH into this book. Major (and very current, relevant) themes that she explores include gentrification, privilege, and racism. I loved how Ms. Cole effortlessly weaved these themes and Black history into the core of her story. I found Sydney’s perspective to feel honest and at times no-holds barred. Sometimes her revelations made me uncomfortable, which they should. Sometimes I was scared, and sometimes it just broke my heart. Especially since while I know this particular book is a work of fiction, there are real people out there at this very moment experiencing what Sydney (and her neighborhood) does in this book.
When No One is Watching is told in a dual perspective, the second is from Sydney’s white neighbor Theo. Theo is a well-meaning ally, but definitely has a lot to learn. (Which is how I felt reading this book.) The stark contrast between her point of view and what Theo experiences is startling at times, making Sydney’s POV even more powerful.
When No One is Watching is labeled as a “psychological thriller,” and it definitely was. This was a five star read for me right up until the end, when it just felt rushed. I would say that even though I ultimately wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, I think this is a must-read for everyone. Ms. Cole tackles some very important topics, puts things in perspective, and really makes you think. Great read.