ALC provided by Libro.fm and HarperAudio in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published after the release date (September 1st, 2020)
Content/Trigger Warnings: Gentrification, racism, microaggressions, victim playing/self-victimization (from a side character), talk of slavery, brief mentions of colonization, loss of a loved one, talk of financial debt, (medical) debt harassment, harassment, allusions to stalking, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, talk of cheating (in the past from a side character), talk of domestic abuse (in the past), cycles of abuse, gaslighting (in the past), toxic relationships, mentions of hospitalization, talk of institutionalization, murder, scene of attempted abduction, brief mention of animal abuse, brief mention of suicide, forced medical experimentation, talk of drug addiction and drug dealing, violence, threats of calling the police, police brutality
I really want to recommend checking out the reviews by the following people: Jazmen, Myonna, Carole, Robin, and Shakila Marie. Each one of these lovely souls has a beautifully written review talking about what they loved and disliked, and I can’t recommend them enough.
I’ve never read anything by Alyssa Cole before. In fact, as I was listening to this audiobook, I’m reading one of her romance books, A Princess In Theory. So going into this book not knowing much about it, about the author’s writing style, or the author, I was completely surprised by this book. This was so hard to pause and go to sleep at night because all I wanted was to know what was about to happen next. As someone who isn’t the biggest reader of thrillers, I enjoyed this immensely and I hope many readers will pick this book up soon!
Our story bounces between two perspectives, Sydney and Theo’s point of views. Sydney is Black, recently divorced, and has moved back to her hometown in Brooklyn, New York to help her ailing mother. Theo is white and has recently moved into one of Sydney’s past neighbor’s home with his abusive ex-girlfriend, to renovate the home they now reside in. As she sits upon the stoop of their brownstone, she realizes just how much her neighborhood has been changing. The neighbors she once knew are no longer there and seem to be replaced by high class families and couples. But as all this is happening, Sydney is trying to compile extensive information about the Black history of her neighborhood for a tour she’s planning to do and Theo volunteers to help her in anyway he can. Meanwhile, as they continue to compile the information for the tour, more and more Black people in the community continue to disappear under strange circumstances. And the more Sydney and Theo dive into the history of the neighborhood, the more unsettling activities have been happening.
I think this is the first book I’ve ever read that accurately talks about gentrification and how it impacts communities. In my opinion, this is the scariest part about this whole entire book because gentrification is still in full force today. As someone who lives in a state that suffers from ‘top to bottom’ gentrification and ‘bottom to top’ gentrification, the scariest part is how quickly things happen, how silent many people stay, and seeing how people resign themselves to what’s happening. Having had conversations with those who have been effected by gentrification, it’s gut wrenching to hear those stories. Many people don’t want to look too closely or acknowledge that a lot of these things happen because of poorly structured systems or how they’re structured from racism. From prisons systems, police forces, all the way to major corporations, they’re broken in someway that benefits the people on top and does harm to those of the lower class. A lot of people choose to ignore how BIPOC communities are impacted because they don’t want to feel uncomfortable, they don’t want to change these systems especially when it benefits them in some way.
“People bury the parts of history they don’t like, pave it over like African cemeteries beneath Manhattan skyscrapers.”
I also want to give this gentle reminder; those who are BIPOC, it’s not their job to educate you on history, privilege, and the events that still continue to happen in present day. However, Cole unapologetically does that. She addresses gentrification, she talks about the privilege many non-BIPOC have, she shows the divide between higher and lower class homes, and so much more. Cole doesn’t shy away from any of it and goes into details of how even the smallest act plays a role in the bigger scheme of things. Alyssa Cole didn’t have to write about any of this, but she did and I have the utmost respect for her, and the labor that was poured into this book. I truly hope many people take the contents of this book, sit with it, start to recognize the privileges they have.
The relationship between Theo and Sydney was definitely interesting to see. I really liked how it wasn’t a perfect relationship and how there was a theme of trust need to be earned, not given. I really appreciated that element because I’m a firm believer that trust and respect are earned, not given. And I’m not going to lie, that steamy scene between Sydney and Theo was so good. As I said, I’m just now diving into Alyssa Cole’s work and just this scene alone has me really excited for her romance novels.
This book does a fantastic job of building up the story and encouraging the reader to keep reading. I mentioned above that I had a hard time setting this audiobook on pause because I needed to know what would happen next. I think for many readers, the slow pacing might cause some readers to struggle, but for my personal reading experience of the the audiobook, I think the pacing fit. So, I definitely encourage picking up the audiobook. Plus, the way Alyssa Cole writes is so beautiful and has such a way at capturing the reader’s attention.
I think the only real issue, for many readers, might be the ending of the book. Once you hit the 75% mark, things begin the escalate very rapidly. I think this will cause the ending to be a hit or miss for some readers. For myself, it wasn’t a huge issue because I tend to get wrapped up in the action of the events that take place, but for readers who enjoy more details in their thrillers, this might be a struggle.
Overall, I truly hope many readers pick this book up. As I mentioned a plethora of times, this book doesn’t shy away from important topics that deserve to be talked about more. It’s such a powerful read with very atmospheric elements woven in. And the sense of community alone is such a powerful force throughout this book, as a whole. I can honestly say that I’ve been blown away and I’m even more excited to dive further into Alyssa Cole’s work. Again, I can’t encourage everyone enough to pick this book up especially the audiobook.
The quotes above were taken from an ALC and are subject to change upon publication.
4 thoughts on “When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole”
Great review. I loved When No One is Watching!