By Sahana C.
Fans of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, this book is for you. Romance author Alyssa Cole’s first venture into the thriller genre comes to us with a bang, a gentrification thriller that talks about all of the ways a neighborhood disappearing can truly be insidious.
When No One is Watching follows Sydney, a Black woman recently returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up, and Theo, a White man, who has also recently moved into the neighborhood with his extremely wealthy (and pretty catty) girlfriend/ex/it’s-complicated, Kim. Neighborhood shops disappear and turn into national chains, but it isn’t until Sydney hears about neighbors moving suddenly that she starts to think something unusual might be going on. She teams up with Theo to work on an accurate tour of the neighborhood, but is unsure if he’s trustworthy or part of the problem.
Cole does a wonderful job marrying the two perspectives, Sydney’s and Theo’s, into a cohesive narrative, in a time and situation where their points of view appear to be polar opposites. When we are reading from Sydney’s point of view, it is nerve-wracking and jarring, a new problem around every corner. When we are seeing the world from Theo’s eyes, it is us trying desperately to understand problems that don’t hurt us the way that they hurt other people.
This novel approaches gentrification with a firm and education-based stance. There are some moments where it feels like Cole is trying to make sure that her readers are walking away armed with facts, not just the thrill factor. Admittedly, that can feel a little distracting when there is the next big bad problem only pages away, but waiting with the characters and following the pace that Cole sets up is well worth it for the explosive finale.
The influence of Get Out is clear as well, and fans of the movie will notice the pacing of the book matching closely to the movie. No matter how similar the two seem, however, the ending is still something that will catch readers by surprise, keeping you hooked to every page.
It is an easy, captivating read for people who want the conventions of a thriller while also feeling like they are learning something. New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke wrote, “From the first page of When No One Is Watching, I felt like I was right there in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, filled with sharply etched characters and dialogue that zings. Then bam! I was knocked over by the momentum of an intense psychological thriller that doesn’t let go until the final page. This is a terrific read.”
Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.