In honor or all thing spooky, Literally dove into the thriller and horror genre for the month of October. As a huge fan of The Shining by Stephen King and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (I like scary!), as well as films from Alfred Hitchcock and the incredible Jordan Peele, I was more than excited to dig into Alyssa Cole's newest novel, When No One Is Watching.
In the fictional, and historically Black, neighborhood of Gifford Place in Brooklyn, New York, Sydney is watching her neighborhood disappear before her eyes. She and her neighbors witness Black and Brown families, fixtures in the neighborhood, move away, as well as the shuttering of longtime businesses. Meanwhile, wealthy, Lululemon-clad white couples are moving in, fancy coffee shops are being built, and the neighborhood's character is quickly being washed away. One of Sydney's new white neighbors, Theo, offers to assist Sydney with her new venture: a historical tour of the neighborhood, focusing on its Native and African American roots. Together, Sydney and Theo begin to notice strange, nefarious things happening around Gifford place, and begin to uncover a dark history that seems to be repeating itself. Not only is there a sudden increase in suspicious characters around the neighborhood, but many of the longtime residents of the area are going missing with no explanation.
Sydney, meanwhile is dealing with the crush of debt collectors, lawyers and banks surrounding the condition of her ailing mother and the home she owns in Gifford Place. As disappearances continue, Sydney confronts her fear and comes face to face with her mistrust of others and her anger with the horrors of gentrification and capitalism. She takes it upon herself to defend Gifford Place, to save her beloved neighborhood fixtures and to find her missing neighbors - with the help of Theo.
There's plenty to be afraid of in When No One Is Watching. Strange, unidentifiable meter-readers show up at Sydney's door, claiming their need to be let in. There's a particularly frightening encounter with an Uber driver who turns out not to be an Uber driver at all (PSA: check the license plate BEFORE you get in the car!), predatory realtors prowl the neighborhood in search of an aging homeowner to take advantage of. What's most frightening is the reality of all these fears. When No One Is Watching certainly takes a satirical look at the inward fragility of white people, mixed with a drive to plunder and pillage, but it's tough to read certain scenes in the book without being reminded of recent news stories. In one scene, Theo's kind-of-ex-girlfriend, Kim, cuts in line in front of Sydney at their corner bodega. When Sydney speaks up, asking Kim to please acknowledge her existence by getting in the back of the line, Kim turns on the tears, clutching at Theo and threatening to call the police.
I won't share much more in terms of the plot, because shit gets CRAZY and it's so much fun to read - and to listen to! I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook and blew through it in a weekend. Cole does a great job of taking real-life situations, especially those that are ongoing in our social and political climate, and building on them to create a dynamic story, full of twists and turns. I'd love to know your thoughts on this Halloween read, and what other horror and thriller books you're enjoying!
Happy reading, and Happy Halloween!!