Book Club Pick: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.
Wow, this post is overdue! That’s totally my fault that I dropped the ball, I got caught up in a bunch of other things which I go into more detail about in my ‘Outside the Blogsphere’ post. (INCLUDE LINK) A few people from the publishing program I was part of decided to start a book club so we could discuss books and of course, keep in contact with one another. Out of the 14 people in the program, I think there’s only 5 or 6 of us that are participating. We had a lot of fun during our first meeting near the end of September. It was nice catching up and supporting each other as we try to find jobs related to publishing.
For our first book club pick we wanted to read something new by a Canadian author. We had a lot of suggestions, in the end we decided to read When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. We heard a lot about this book on our social media accounts, and even in bookstores. Good job HarperCollins marketing team! It was also Indigo’s pick of the month. As you guys know, I’m really into thrillers, I can sniff out a good thriller a mile away and I enjoy twists that I don’t see coming.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?
During our discussion, we explored the thriller genre, character development and the relevance of this book today. Of course, we then got off topic and started discussing our personal lives and what jobs we were finding – the typical book club talk.
The book did several things well such as create the feeling of isolation that is so common amongst horror and thriller novels. This book was compared to Get Out and Rear Window, which are accurate comps for this novel. The setting is in one neighbourhood and it feels so confined to it. I have seen Rear Window and I can attest that this book had those vibes, of looking out a window watching neighbours and how isolating that is for the characters.
When we moved on to talk about the characters, we all agreed that Theo was not well fleshed out compared to Sydney. He fell flat and seemed more like a plot device than anything else. We weren’t fans of his character at all! The secondary character Kim, was well-written compared to Theo. We all hated her which was exactly what Cole wanted the reader to feel. However, the plot points around her felt rushed and didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I knew from the beginning that Theo was a shady character, and that Sydney was hiding something, I could have attributed to reading thrillers, or maybe it was just very apparent to everyone reading this book?
Let’s talk about the ending because it turned sci-fi very quickly and I’m still unsure how I feel about that. Some background on Cole is that she is known for sci-fi romance novels, so writing a thriller seemed like an odd choice for this writer. The ending was very graphic and seemed rushed. We thought that this ending was better suited for a horror novel than a thriller when compared to the rest of the book, it was very horror-esque. The motivation of the characters towards the end seemed very limited, like they needed more triggers in order to pull off what they did. I don’t think it would have been very easy for them to just pull the trigger on a gun and kill someone something bigger has to happen, I think.
I wasn’t surprised at all how this book ended or what secrets/twists were revealed, it was very lack-luster and fell flat for me. I had high hopes for this book, so many people gave it amazing reviews on my Instagram, and it was talked very highly of. I was disappointed in this book, maybe it’s because I read a lot of thrillers so I can see when a twist is coming (or not if the book was well fleshed out).
Tone/Relation to Society
There was much depth in the tone and elements in this novel. There was a lot of pressure and mention of finances and money throughout this novel which led into racism, culture, and socio-economic status of all the characters. This novel did one thing right, it made all of the struggles that African Americans in this novel face brought to the forefront. What this novel does well is make the reader uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable throughout this novel at the racism the characters faced — they were being forced from the houses that they bought and owned in order for rich white Americans to claim it as theirs. I also felt like this could actually happen, it’s not a far stretch of the truth which makes this more real. I think that’s why I was so upset at the ending; it just didn’t fit in with the narrative that Cole built throughout the novel. It felt like it was two different novels, and both were competing for facetime.
None of us were super thrilled and excited about this novel, but it did give us a lot to talk about! We talked for almost two hours, most of the time was dedicated to talking about this novel, the rest was us catching each other up about our lives during this pandemic.
The general rating was around a 3/5. I rated it a 3.5, it was good, but I wouldn’t read it again and I wouldn’t recommend it.
What are we reading next?
Our read for October was The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. Stayed tuned for that Book Club Discussion Post!