When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

 “They can break, but they can't erase. They can build but they can't bury us.”

When you think of home, what comes to mind? For me, home is the place where I grew up. It is the house that I shared with my parents and brothers for the majority of my life. It is the neighbors who watched me grow up. Home is the community that I was a part of, the schools,  the church, that corner gas station that everyone stopped at on their way to and from work, the restaurant where you'd always run into someone you knew. Over the years, my home changed. I moved away and started a life of my own, and the place from my memory kept evolving without me. What I remember as empty fields by my house have turned into sprawling subdivisions. There are stoplights where a humble stop sign once sat. And of course, the people have changed too. The home of my memory is just that, a memory of a time and place that I once knew. In her novel When No One is Watching, author Alyssa Cole explores the evolution of home in a thriller that is as thoughtful as it is suspenseful. 

The only home Sydney Green has ever known is Brooklyn. She's taken an active role in her community, especially as her mother became unable to do so. Sydney visits with her neighbors, most of whom she's grown up around, and even oversees the community garden. But the home she's known and loves is facing unprecedented change. The gentrification of her community is unfolding before Sydney's very eyes. High-rise condos are filling vacant lots, and many of her longtime neighbors have sold out and moved away without even a goodbye. Try as she might, it seems like Sydney can do little to save her home. 

Theo is struggling to settle into his new home. The Brooklyn neighborhood that he recently moved to with his girlfriend has potential, but there's still a long way to go before it will really feel like home. The neighborhood is split between the well-off white families who are buying up property in droves and the black families who are just trying to hang onto what little piece of the neighborhood that they have left. People like Theo's girlfriend certainly don't help matters. She seems to think that the world and everyone in it revolve around her, the living embodiment of privilege. Theo, on the other hand, is bound and determined to actually get to know his neighbors. He makes his way to a neighborhood meeting and is surprised to find that he's the only white person there. Despite their differences though, Theo and his neighbors (Sydney included) have something in common. They're each harboring nefarious secrets, and these secrets are all about to come to light. 

Alyssa Cole strikes the perfect balance between social commentary and paranoid thriller with When No One is Watching. The novel begins as a fairly straightforward story of two people coming to terms with their role in the gentrification of a community. Both of the main characters read as genuine portrayals of how people would react to their situations. Sydney is clinging to her past and her history while Theo is trying to make the place his own. By bringing the two together, Cole allows her readers to discover contrasting perspectives in a way that is both timely and thoughtful. It seems that Americans are finally getting more comfortable talking about race and privilege, and fiction like this helps us to continue that conversation in the real world. 

Intermixed with these more serious subjects is a thriller aspect that sees quiet coincidences bloom into shocking revelations. In the hands of a lesser author, the juxtaposition between these drastically different elements could be jarring, but Cole writes them with an ease that allowed even this seasoned thriller reader to suspend disbelief and fall under the spell of her words. I've found myself thinking less about the conclusion of this story than the ideas presented before it, but I can't deny that Cole has packaged a nuanced commentary about race relations in America into a story that is compulsively readable. When No One is Watching is a thought-provoking page-turner, the kind of book that simply demands to be read. The themes in Cole's book continue a conversation that is vital to bringing empathy, understanding, and ultimately unity, all things that remind me of what it takes to turn a community into a home. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 9)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 and is filed under ,,,,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

28 Responses to “When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole”

  1. I have this on audio but I've heard kind of mixed reviews -e specially regarding the ending but I like how you say it's worth reading just for the ideas it presents. I'll keep that in mind when I start it.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. The ending didn't live up to everything that happened before, but I still think this is worth the read.

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  2. This one's been on my radar for awhile. Who knows when I'll get around to reading it, but all the different elements in this one make it intriguing.

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    1. I know the feeling. There's just too many books to read haha

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  3. Mmm, this sounds interesting, thanks for your review !

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  4. Great review Ethan! I liked your own description of home. And this book explores that along with a great thriller plot.

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    1. Thanks. There's a lot happening in this book, but it all kind of boils down to that central idea of home.

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  5. This one has been on my radar but I've yet to pick it up. I like how you describe it as a mix of social commentary and thriller. I'll be checking my library for this.

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    1. It is a worthy read, so I hope you find it at your library!

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  6. I thought we talked about this no-thrillers thing...

    But in all seriousness, that line about how home changed after you moved away, somehow really got to me tonight. When I was a junior in college my mom moved from the suburb of the Twin Cities that I had grown up in. It had changed so much in just the four years I was in undergrad, I don't think I could bear to see what it all looks like now. I'll keep my memories.

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    1. I know, the next couple of books aren't thrillers, so you'll get a break again. And yes, it is crazy to think about how home changes when we leave.

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  7. Theo's girlfriend sounds awful. Sounds like a good book though.

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    1. She's definitely the character who you are meant to hate in this one haha

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  8. Cole thriller?! I have only read her romances ;)

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    1. I think this was her first take on the genre, but hopefully not her last!

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  9. I am a big fan of Cole's contemporary romances and am happy to hear her thriller was thought provoking. It sounds like she did a good job showcasing her strengths in a different genre.

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    1. This was the first book I've read from her, and I thought she wrote a very convincing thriller. I'd have never guessed she was more known for romance!

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  10. Glad you thought the various themes of the book were handled well. I've heard this isn't your typical mystery or thriller, and those can be tough sometimes.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Yes, the thriller aspect is really more a vehicle for larger ideas.

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  11. Yay, so glad you enjoyed this as well. I listened and agree 100% about your thoughts on her writing and the story.

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    1. As usual, we tend to align on our opinions!

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  12. I have a copy of the audio for this book but haven't picked it up yet. It sounds like I should give it a try sometime soon.

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  13. I've been wondering about this one! Sounds like it's a compelling thriller with some substance to it. I'm definitely going to give it a go.

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  14. Sounds interesting, I'll have to keep an eye out for this one! <3

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    1. It is a worthy addition to your TBR list for sure!

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