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  • Writer's pictureCaitlyn Lynch

Book Review: When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Sydney Green’s Brooklyn neighborhood is changing every time she turns around. The folks she’s known all her life - mostly Black folks - are selling up and being replaced by white, upwardly mobile types renovating the street’s historic brownstones and cashing in. Real estate agents are hovering like vultures, knocking on doors constantly. Sydney has sworn never to sell her mother’s house, and she knows there are others on the street who would never consider moving either. Until they do… overnight. And just disappear.

Sydney starts wondering if she’s paranoid. The ground strangely shaking in the middle of the night, the unbelievable plague of bedbugs. Even her best friend Drea is acting weird. New neighbour Theo, a white guy, offers to help with Sydney’s research into the history of the area for her new historic walking tour she plans to offer, and while she’d really rather not, she does need the help and her neighbors talk her into it.

As Sydney and Theo work together, we learn some of the intriguing history of Black Brooklyn through their eyes, as well as get to know both of them better… and it transpires that both of them have some shocking secrets. On an emotional night, they fall into bed together and there’s a fairly explicit sex scene, before the thriller action really ramps up.

And for me, this is where the book jumped the shark. I was really into it up until this point, fascinated by the way the author weaved history and the awful methods the government has been using for generations to unfairly cheat Black residents, with the way the capitalist system can be manipulated to cheat them today. I even bought into what was actually happening to the missing residents. What I just couldn’t get on board with was the way Sydney handled things, and the aftermath, because this basically just turned straight-up dystopian… and not one single person seemed to think of starting a live stream on their mobile phone to share with the world what was going on. You shine light into dark corners to scare roaches, and there’s no light like the glare of the media spotlight, but it didn’t even seem to occur to Sydney, and that didn’t make sense.

Four stars for a fascinating read with some intriguing historical factual basis to it, but an ending that just went off the rails into complete dystopia and didn’t seem to consider the realistic solution right there staring them in the face.

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