[Review] When No One Is Watching

Dear Reader,

Not all plot twists are welcome surprises.

All good psychological thrillers have plot twists. These can come in many forms, including that of an unreliable narrator, murder, and devious supporting characters who reveal their true colors at the height of the action. While these twists will always have the element of surprise, they shouldn’t be totally unrealistic. For example, learning that the “best friend” is actually a backstabbing frenemy is more realistic than learning that the BFF is a long-lost, half-sister, dead set on sabotaging the protagonist. You see the difference? When the plot twists make the reality unbelievable, it can be hard to buy into the rest of the story.

Recently, I finished reading the book “When No One is Watching,” by Alyssa Cole. Without spoilers, I will briefly say that the action revolves around Sydney, an African American Brooklyn native who is becoming unsettled — if not paranoid — about the rapid gentrification of her neighborhood. The book explores racial tensions between Black and White America and reveals a hidden history of intimidation and oppression in New York City real estate through the perspectives of Sydney and her new neighbor, Theo (one of the few White residents in the area).

While the premise of the book was interesting to me, I found the whole story to be a bit over the top. For example (and again, without spoilers), the characters in the book seemed to be either black or white (pun intended), but not gray. People were either evil, mustache twirling, racists, or they were good-hearted citizens who were oppressed like seven times a day. When it came to the question of race, I don’t think there was a single apathetic character, which is strange, because I imagine many people are neither vile, nor virtuous, just somewhere in between.

“I was knocked over by the momentum of an intense psychological thriller that doesn’t let go until the final page. This is a terrific read.” – Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author

I too was “knocked over,” but not by the momentum of this book, rather by the sharp twists and turns that the story takes. While there were certainly good twists (not everyone is who they seem), there were also the twists that make you question whether you picked up a psychological thriller or a science fiction novel. While I was not a fan of the twists, I will note that the events didn’t just “come out of nowhere,” rather the author took great lengths to ground everything in historical precedents. Regardless, some things in this book seemed just a little too far-fetched for me.

All in all, while this book was not exactly my cup of tea, I enjoyed reading it and the book is well-liked on Amazon.com (over 4 star rating!). Also, I certainly learned a lot about the panic of 1837 and racist housing practices that targeted African Americans in New York (most of these points were not taught in my high school U.S. History class!). So, if you are looking for a thriller, social commentary, action/ adventure novel of epic (and somewhat unrealistic) proportions, you may as well check out “When No One Is Watching.”

Happy Reading!



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