Friday, August 21, 2020

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole ARC Review


When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Add to Your Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon
Image result for four star rating
Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

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?
I wasn't sure what to expect, but I can honestly say I think it was less about the thrill of the scare and more about the fright of the story the book is telling. When I came back to NYC to finish my undergraduate degree, I saw the effects of gentrification. I wrote a paper for a journalism class on the subject of gentrification because the effects it had on black and brown neighborhoods overwhelmed me. For example in, Harlem, where I was born and spent a lot of my free time. Instead of seeing the small mom and pop stores where I would buy my most fly gear, those same stores were replaced with stores I would typically have to go further downtown to find. It was like watching a train wreck that I couldn't stop or turn away from. When No One is Watching tells that very story in an eerily, realistic, thrilling way.

Sydney was relatable. She practically leaped off the pages, and she set the tone for the entire story. Everything that happened around her felt disheartening yet ominous. I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety reading the story, all the while worrying about what would and did wind up happening to Sydney. That was the thrill. Not the blood and gore, not the whodunit, but watching everything happen in painstaking realistic, racist detail.

Considering Cole isn't a thriller writer, her foray into the genre is well done. It had the makings of a thriller, but with the romantic elements, we expect from the author. The "romance" in the story played into and furthered the plot. The twists were unexpected and made for a more exciting story. I had a good time with this despite the moments of anger I felt towards what I'll call the "villains" of the story.

The writing is beautiful, and the story was exciting. As a debut thriller writer, I was pleased and would be eager to see Cole do more in this genre. I loved the premise and the execution of the concept. When No One is Watching is a gripping, exhilarating tale that shines a light on the painful effects of racism on housing and in general.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam ARC Review

54129941. sy475

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five
Add to Your Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon
Picture - 5 Black Star Rating Png Clipart - Full Size Clipart ...
The story that I thought
was my life
didn’t start on the day
I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. 

The story that I think
will be my life
starts today
Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

On page 77, there's a line that says, "Bail money is invisible handcuffs," and if that's true, Black anger is mine. It's a quiet/loud part of me I lug around weighed down by its seemingly present less presence. Wondering when my Blackness will get me into trouble, I didn't create.

When I finished this book, I just sat still, staring at the cursor contemplating how to summarize what the book is about and how it made me feel. Whatever I say here will be inadequate, but here's me trying.

I can honestly say the Exonerated Five was just a story, an angering story I knew little about. Then many, many years later, Ava DuVernay made a film about them. Then the story became real, and the anger that I mentioned at the beginning became something I could taste. It was like eating something sour that lingered and lingered. 

This collaboration is a light into an otherwise darkened, unvisited place-- a story that tells the truth of the disenfranchisement of young Black men. It also paints a picture of the injustices of the judicial system that doesn't give Black people the same justice it has given others. So many Black boys and men wind up in prison. The actual number would make my stomach want to retreat in on itself. 

This story shows the power of words and thoughts and how they can either turn into hope or despair. This book was both, and it straddled the fence expertly to prove its many points. 

Amal came to life in short bursts of powerful prose. Every line tugged on my heart and yanked my face forward so I didn't miss a single line.

We meet each of the secondary characters through Amal's eyes and voice, and if it were they were a painting, they would be vivid and highly descriptive. The secondary characters added another layer of nuance, and realism to an evocative, knock out of a novel. 

Punching the Air is one of those books that read you while you're reading it. I am moved to a desire for action. I want to do more than read the book and move on.  This book reminds me of why I read in the first place and why it matters so much to me. It reminds me why words matter so much period.

The words between the two minuscule pieces of paper that hold the book together cannot contain the power within it. Hard-hitting, wise and bold, Punching the Air is a novel you won't soon forget. 

Thank you Ibi and Yusef for this story and these words.