Sydney Green lives in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is historically Black but its history, and present, is being replaced by white people. On a tour of her neighborhood, the tour guide knows nothing of the historic Black residents and actively dissuades Sydney from speaking up. In response to this, Sydney decides to take matter into her own hands and create a neighborhood tour that highlights its real history. In this pursuit, she is joined by her new neighbor Theo, a white man who is in a bad relationship and is eager to help out Sydney (the fact that he finds her interesting and attractive is just a side note).
While doing their research for the tour, more and more horrible things happen in the neighborhood. People are getting arrested, disappearing, being shoved out of their family homes, and no one knows what’s going on. The excuses that Sydney is given just don’t make sense and her anxiety about her mother’s safety and her relationship with her best friend are not helping anything. Strange men appearing at her door demanding they come in and check the apartment, Uber drivers that may not actually be Uber drivers, people claiming ownership of the community garden, Sydney’s life and safety are unraveling and no one seems to be taking her seriously.
Theo is there alongside her, trying to understand and help in any way he can, but can Sydney really trust him? He is a white man invading her space after all. In a deeply intense and anxiety-ridden story, When No One is Watching sends you through a paranoia filled adventure that leaves you confused and worried alongside the main character.
I think Alyssa Cole did such a good job at making the reader feel the unease and horror that comes with being a Black person at the hands of gentrification. I’m not Black so I can’t speak to the level of fear that a Black or reader of color may have to this story, but from reviews that I’ve watched and read, they feel like this story accurately represented experiences and fears that they have. I know a lot of white reviewers have been saying that this isn’t a thriller, and I just really have to disagree. My only feeling as to why that’s happening is because they don’t see the white people invading a Black space as scary. And that’s a problem. Because gentrification is a problem and watching it unfold is just as scary as any other thriller I’ve read. I really really recommend this thriller, it is high anxiety and the action really ramps up near the end. You’ll have a scary and great time reading this.