When No One is Watching: A Thriller by Alyssa Cole
I really wanted to like this book. I'd read good things. The buzz about the book was good. A friend recommended it. And to top it off, when I read the following on the back cover I was hooked; "Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning... Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but the neighborhood she loves is being erased before her very eyes". As a fan of most things Hitchcock, I couldn't wait to start reading.
I was captured from the first page. The author does a beautiful job of introducing us to Sydney, a smart, spunky Brooklyn-born and raised young woman who decides to join a group tour of her own neighborhood. What she hears on the tour is not at all representative of the neighborhood she knows, so Sydney speaks up. As the tour goes on, the more she speaks, the more she catches the attention of a young man in the group, Theo. Leaving the tour, Sydney heads into her own Brooklyn brownstone and decides to start a neighborhood tour of her own.
We learn that Sydney has moved back to Brooklyn after a failed marriage, and sadly, some time trying to recover after some vague mental health issues are referenced. It seems that her ex has accused her of being crazy, and that at one point she was institutionalized. Now she's back in Brooklyn, living back in the home she grew up in while her mother has been placed into a long-term care facility. Sydney is struggling with paying medical bills, paying the care facility and all of the other unpleasantries that can arise when a loved one can no longer stay in their home.
The writing about Sydney and her mother is beautiful and delicate. The writing about what's happening to Sydney's neighborhood is powerful and gut-wrenching. The author does a fantastic job of introducing characters and compelling the reader to care about them. Even Theo, the young man introduced in the neighborhood tour, who has since moved into a house across the street from Sydney, is likeable, even though he is part of what Sydney sees as the problems with the neighborhood. The themes of racism, class, and privilege are deftly woven together in the pages.
Fast forward and Sydney is constantly finding her old friends and neighbors going away and new neighbors and changes taking their place. There is a new Medical Center moving in on the abandoned grounds of a hospital which was known more for failure than success. So that sounds good, right? Wrong. What the Medical Center is bringing is aggressive realtors trying to get the long-time, mostly black residents of this neighborhood to sell their homes, locally owned stores being replaced by mini-marts and most disturbingly, friends and family being arrested or disappearing altogether. At first Sydney thinks the older neighbors were just taken away by their families and their houses put up for sale, but she is saddened that some never said goodbye. When one particularly lively community leader disappears, though, Sydney and Theo decide to investigate. The author does a great job of building the partnership between them...Theo seems like a good enough guy, but can Sydney really trust him?
I was intrigued as I continued reading, as Alyssa Cole does a wonderful job of letting a white woman like me live through the eyes of Sydney, who is black. Without lecturing, and by simply appealing to basic human empathy, we realize again why the Black Lives Matter movement is an important issue. We get just a minuscule glimpse of what it would be like to live in someone else's skin, and it's not a comfortable place. Kudos to the author for this much-needed reference.
I was enjoying the book so much that I continued reading the first 3/4 of it well into and through the night. And that's when the problem happened.
Shortly after Sydney and Theo start exploring, the book goes from being a believable human-interest story with intrigue and just enough "thriller" to keep the reader interested, to becoming an action-packed kind of pulp-fiction, making me wish I had gone to bed.
I found the following review from -@suzylew_bookreview to be spot on:
"Cole illuminates the history of gentrification, its effects on the housing market, and the overwhelmingly negative effects on predominantly Black communities. She also examines the issue of gaslighting as Sydney struggles to trust herself again after the lingering effects of her ex-husband’s abuse threaten her ability to see the true picture of what is happening in Gifford Park.
However, the thriller reveal appears to be so fantastical and far-fetched that it appears almost cartoon comical. As the novel races towards the ending, it devolves into a Kill Bill/ Quentin Tarantino bloodbath that undercuts the serious issues Cole examines. Despite the fact that the ending left me wanting [more], Cole’s examination of gentrification and the deterioration of Black communities makes it a worthwhile read." —@suzylew_bookreview".
The majority of this book is great, and I loved it, but if you're looking for a satisfying ending, turn out the lights as soon as the "action" starts, and get some sleep, instead. The ending is easy and predictable by that point and you'll save yourself some red eyes and end on a good note!