Long-time residents of Gifford Place, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, are being pressured on all sides to vacate their homes and businesses. As two main characters investigate the suspect actions of the pharmaceutical company that is building their new campus in the middle of the neighborhood, fans of the terrifying and poignant movie Get Out will feel moments of déjà vu. Alyssa Cole has applied the satirical framework of Get Out to the problem of gentrification and though the foundation isn’t new, the layout and fixtures are creative and make for a psychologically thrilling page-turner.
Cole takes readers through all-too-relatable micro-aggressions and racism experienced by Black Americans and the near constant faux pas made by white liberals. Switching between two characters’ points of view, we get often opposing perspectives on the peculiar, seemingly everyday events taking place.
We meet our protagonist, Sydney, at close to absolute exhaustion. She’s been through a rough few months that have included a nasty divorce and caring for her ailing mother, both of which prompted a cross-country move back to Gifford Place, where she grew up. Across the street, Theo, an unassuming white man in his early thirties has just moved in with his “renovation-crazed girlfriend.” Theo’s also had a few rough months as of late after losing a cushy job and admitting to himself that the relationship he’s in isn’t working.
In a seemingly innocent turn of events, Sydney and Theo find themselves working together on a history project about the neighborhood that opens them up to each other – and to some *very* scary things happening below ground and between the walls of their brownstones.
Jaw-dropping twists are plentiful and the writing strikes an impressive balance of serious and fun. Peppered with powerful historic references and through-provoking commentary, the book also challenges readers’ perspectives and opinions about gentrification and the people it hurts and helps. When No One is Watching is a great literary follow up to Get Out.
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