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When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out?

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Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Enjoyed the scenes creation in this one. I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I’m wondering if the audiobook version was the way to go.

The Story
I think this book is one that will speak to people differently and warrants such an individual interpretation based on certain experiences and perceptions of the past and present time.

Bits I thought were great, some a little less.

Really enjoyed a little bit of New England history. Most of the story focused on changes happening during gentrification of a neighborhood with overall increased racial and social divide that already pre-existed, told in a fore-telling way. Narrowing it down to the realization of it in a community from two points of view, highlighting differences in culture, social status, social inequality, social injustices.

An arching theme of racial subjugation. Made some social talking points in a nuanced way, some otherwise more overt. Inclusion in the lack of diversity while also pointing out the exclusion because of diversity.

Sort of spoke to a loaded point with presuppositions I was less clear about. Thriller aspects I quite enjoyed, especially the Uber scene.

My favorite scene was the hair boutique.

Definitely more of a modern take geared toward an audience likely within a certain age range. Spanned from Avon to emojis. It took a certain amount of know about of pop culture/modern references, some I understood, others not so much.

Tone
The overall tone at the beginning was negative, very hopeless. Hopeful for the glory days of Brooklyn, mostly told through neighborhood watch commentary.

I felt myself wanting to know more about these better days as the characters experienced them and what made it all so great without having any prior knowledge and I’m not sure if there was a real tipping point for the time frame since the beginning 2/3rds of the book was more of a slow burn in time, from a solidarity that was less defined.

I wondered about the familiar faces, where did they all go? I wanted more of the lived experiences rather than told in retrospect. I suppose I missed it in the book because it sounded like on page 56, that she came back to Brooklyn as an adult so I wasn’t sure her yearning because the golden years seemed to be mostly tainted from the start so it was hard to gauge if I hadn’t had any presupposition. Perhaps for her it went from bad to worse without measure and the portrayal was more nuanced.

Character descriptions like a “Hispanic teen” and mentions of Middle Eastern and Chinese restaurant businesses not being up to par with the main character’s standard, which at first hand was less credulous to her point, instead came back full circle, though I’m not sure if I understood it correctly in its entirety if that was the case.

Written as a character who was continually unhappy with her situation, with life, with herself. Action and description of those she encountered was in the most judgmental way, comparing all of her experiences to the glory days as a passive spectator, yet strong at heart and will, which was so different than the ending when pent up emotion finally came out. She took action with all her might, at least what was left of it after much time of suppression.

Her emotion from the start was worn down. I would have liked to have explored more and greater depth of her distant memories of the place and personal growth aside from being told of such things like the fire hydrant play, that would have been more unique to her as an individual aside from race and social status, as well as her friends and family as a collective experience. Maybe some points of joy to reference from in her previous relationships.

The Writing
It was like “Here’s the scene…” and proceeded to tell me about everything through a rant without any grounding into the lives and experiences I wanted to know more about.

Some of the writing I really enjoyed, brought out the curtness, loved the one liners, but other times because of perhaps the pacing, I didn’t find myself always immersed in it.

Pacing
A lot of commentary on everyone and everything as an introduction to her world and everything in it. The telling of it all became sort of repetitive. Until the end, then action, as in the writing of it. I sometimes felt like I was told after the fact and a little too late.

Characters
The characters sort of read the same to me. I only knew what was happening all around them. It wasn’t until about page 144 that the characters started to differentiate a bit in thought, though dialogue characteristics remained the same amongst them.

“You find something nefarious in everything” Marcus told her at one time. She remained hyper-vigilant and suspicious. I often wondered what life was like before Marcus because she didn’t start off with redemptive qualities to invite engagement with those different than her, so it was difficult to feel every disappointment alongside her, though perhaps it was half way through the book, when it became the point and started to make somewhat better sense. Half way I started to understand her social relationships with herself, others, friend betrayal, her mother, though I’m not sure I found all I was looking for in time for the plot to end like it did.

Dialogue
Much dialogue to plow through and because I felt the characters less distinguishable, I think likely audiobook may have helped in this one.

I’ll remember to choose the audiobook version if a subsequent book has multiple POVs and lots of dialogue the next time.

View all my reviews

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