Book Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you have relaxing plans for the day so you can stay inside and read, or catch up on some book reviews, update your to read pile, or any other cosy bookish things that you need to do! Today we’re going to do our best to just relax since we’ve been unpacking all week. Tomorrow we want to do absolutely nothing but read and maybe watch a movie! What could be more perfect for a Sunday? Please enjoy this review of When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole with your tea today. 💖

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Title: When No One is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: September 1, 2020
Genre: thriller, horror, mystery, suspense, contemporary

At a glance: Sydney has lived her whole life in Brooklyn, but ever since For Sale signs have started to go up more frequently, gentrification has taken on a whole new sinister meaning…

  • 💫 Atmospheric
  • 💀 Dark Content
  • 🎢 Thriller
  • 🤔 Thought Provoking

Read this if… you love an atmospheric thriller, books that make a statement on gentrification or social issues, imaginative and suspenseful books.

Diversity Representation: Black protagonist, Black author

Content Warnings: Murder, violence, domestic abuse, suicide references, racism, poverty, panic attacks, medical testing on minority groups, drugs, kidnapping, fire, police violence, white supremacy

book review
Book review

Eerie, tense, thoughtful, clever, informative, thrilling, compelling, and mysterious

When No One is Watching was recommended to me by Sarah (at Girl On Books, just like half of the books I read). I’m not usually a person who likes to read any kind of creepy things at all, because I will literally have nightmares for weeks. That is to say I’m a huge chicken. Though this book had some creepy moments, I was (thank goodness) able to survive it!

Brief Summary: When No One is Watching follows Sydney, a girl who was born and raised in a historically Black neighborhood in Brooklyn. As time goes on, and Sydney grows up, she notices that her neighborhood seems to change every time a for sale sign goes up on one of the houses. This clever tale spins gentrification into the new monster, and makes us stare society’s evils down head on.

This book was written so well I was astonished the entire time. I loved how the author managed to make gentrification into the truest evil here. Honestly, I love when books make something we know to be bad into the monster. It’s always so clever and it makes a huge statement. It didn’t slip past me that even though there was a villain in here, the entire time I was tense because of racism and gentrification. It really made you look at the terrible harm that racism and gentrification causes communities.

My favorite part about this story was how the neighborhood took on a life of it’s own. It was a living, breathing, beautiful historically Black neighborhood, and you could feel the energy. But more so, you could feel the energy being leeched away. The underbelly of gentrification felt like a parasite that was slowly sucking the life out of the neighborhood, little by little. Even more pronounced by the tunnels (you’ll see), it was literally like the parasite of gentrification was putting in a choke hold the living organism that was the neighborhood. It was honestly beautiful. This may not be a paranormal / science fiction / supernatural story, but it really felt like there was a legitimate monster because of it. It was really cool, to say the least.

I thought an incredibly strategic, but not overwhelming piece of the story was that Sydney finds comfort in directing her time and effort in a historical tour of the neighborhood. Alyssa Cole uses this to inform us and educate us about the history of Brooklyn and New York without being overwhelming. It was a way to tie in legitimate history facts without having to shield it in a veil of fiction, where the reader is forced to not understand completely what is fictionalized and what is a hard fact. Because Sydney was interested in doing a tour of the neighborhood and had to research it, we were able to get real historical facts directly into the narrative seamlessly. It was perfect!

Summing it all up

When No One is Watching is a thrilling mystery novel that makes you question who the real monster is. The entire setting is so immersive that it feels alive. The writing was wonderful, and it was really informative in the best way. A wonderful story by Alyssa Cole!

I don’t want to give too much away, but I recommend reading a little bit up on night doctors before you pick this one up. I had some background knowledge (and some stories that I’ve read featuring them) that I was really happy to have had before going into this book. It made it creepier but in a very real way. A very enjoyable way! Here are some resources you can read:

Fiction

Night Doctors by P. Djeli Clark (free to read here) — a short story featuring night doctors as supernatural beings. creepy, but really awesome. P. Djeli Clark is so cool you really need to read him if you haven’t already. Speaking of him,

Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark (goodreads | amazon | bookshop) — this one isn’t as directly related to night doctors, but they do play a role in this book for sure. Night Doctors is actually a prequel to Ring Shout, so it is highly relevant!

Non-fiction

Fear Of The Dark: The Night Doctors In Folk Belief And Historical Reality — don’t hate me, I only skimmed this one. (that is to say, if someone notices this article is garbage, let me know I’ll find a new one) Anyway, here is more of an informational article about them.

About the author

Alyssa Cole is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of romance (historical, contemporary, and sci-fi) and thrillers. Her Civil War-set espionage romance An Extraordinary Union was the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018, and A Princess in Theory was one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018. She’s contributed to publications including Bustle, Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from The New York Times, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Kirkus, Booklist, Jezebel, Vulture, Book Riot, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. When she’s not working, she can usually be found watching anime or wrangling her pets.


Let’s Chat
✨Have you read When No One is Watching? Do you plan to?
✨Do you love when inanimate things feel alive as much as I do?

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Signed Amanda at Bookish Brews

Looking for more diverse reads?

Check out the rest of my blog! I’m dedicated to sharing books with you that include diversity, so feel comfortable that any books on Bookish Brews will include some diversity.

If you liked this review, or thought you might like this book, check out some of my other reviews for books with similar anti-establishment, social topics & clever moods:


Oooh this book sounds perfectly creepy. I need to read it!