When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

The book cover shows a brick townhome or apartment building shaded in blue shadows, with greenery from tree branches around the edges. There are marble steps and railings up to the front double doors, and eight windows on three floors, one lighted behind a curtain, and one dark but with a curtain pulled back as if someone is watching from the dark.

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.” 

When No One is Watching is available in printaudiobook on CD, and as an eBook and an eAudiobook through Overdrive/Libby.

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.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Bright color blocks frame the silhouette of girl, with her figure in red and dress in yellow. The author and title appear in large white text across the middle.

Review by Claudia J.

For the ancestors, a long long line of you bending and twisting

Bending and twisting. 

Memory has a way of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, making it hard to decipher the truth. It is joyous, painful, and strange all at the same time. Jacqueline Woodson hits at each of those emotions in her latest novel Red at the Bone. She opens her novel at a coming-of-age party for 16-year-old Melody, taking place in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Her custom-made dress, full of symbolism and pride – fit for a blossoming woman, was originally meant for her mother, Iris, 16 years earlier. From this fact spirals a series of memories, told from the perspectives of Melody, her parents, and her grandparents at different points in their interesting lives. 

Through these memories, Woodson peels away layers of trauma and triumph of this Brooklyn family. By doing so, she relates her story to the millions of black and brown families experiencing similar burdens. The burden of love. The burden of neighborhoods changing. The burden of your goals vs. the goals set for you. Woodson weaves these characters through themes of identity, sexuality, ambition, pride, and purpose. But, most of all, it tells the story of parenthood and how expectation fights reality in bending and twisting ways.

Red at the Bone is lyrical, reflective, and insightful; a poetic tale of a family that continues to bend and twist its way through life. At a time of reflection and healing, Red at the Bone is a great read to get us through a time of significant change. I truly loved this book and I think you will too.

Available in ebook and eaudio through Libby.

Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.