Book Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

This book was a huge hit this year! After the protests over the summer, I remember seeing this book on a ton of recommended reading lists. I sort of picked this one up on a whim and am glad that I did! The story was thrilling and kept me enthralled until the last moment! Ostensibly just a thriller, this novel examines deeper societal anxieties that are contained within the move to gentrify so much of the inner city. I found it informative as a primer on the other side of gentrification. As someone who had never lived in a city before coming to college, I hadn’t really understood why gentrification was fundamentally opposed by so many people in those neighborhoods. This book really helped me to grasp the feeling of loss and loss of control within the lives of people whose neighborhoods are being or have been gentrified. It’s not so much that the shops and new developments are totally out of the original resident’s price range but also the loss of all the familiar places and people that comes along with gentrification.

We meet our protagonist ,Sydney Green, at a moment of crisis. Her neighborhood is gentrifying, she’s unemployed for the summer and freshly back in Brooklyn after a painful divorce. From the first moments of the book, there’s a feeling that nothing is as it seems. Sydney’s mother along with multiple neighbors seem to have disappeared and a new pack of white neighbors have suddenly bought their homes. Sydney is barely hanging on to her own home supported only by her best friend. Soon, Sydney crosses path with Theo, her unassuming new neighbor and they begin a quest to discover the true history of their Brooklyn neighborhood. Sydney and Theo are led down a twisted path of treachery and discover more about their neighborhood than they thought possible. Their friendship survives the book but barely! The story kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and I read this one quickly, in one or two days. I think my only issue was that there seemed to be some pretty major plot leaps in the final few pages that felt rushed. I felt like the conclusion just sort of slaps you in the face and I felt underwhelmed. However, I would still recommend reading this one, it is fun and thought-provoking, the best of both worlds. Happy reading!