This is one I was eager to get my hands on given the premise and the reviews. It didn’t disappoint, being one of the best books I read this year and, along with Long Bright River, one of the best new releases of 2020.
This book is so many things but at the heart, it’s really a tale of suspense. A lot obviously depends on your perspective (I’m a cishet white guy) but Cole is excellent at blending the existential dread of the Black experience in the United States with the creeping horror that is happening right in her fast gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. Sydney, the lead character, who alternates POV chapters with a white guy named Theo, slowly peals back the sinister doings of what’s happening to the people of color where she lives and Cole, a romance vet writing her first thriller, does a great job of trickling the bread crumbs for the reader. There were times where I thought I had an idea for where things were going, only for the story to take a different turn.
On the balance, the horror aspect of the story is really little more than an exaggerated mirror version of the reality black people face in gentrifying urban communities. Piece-by-piece, folks leave and culture gets appropriated or sold off to the highest bidder. Power brokers want to invest in neighborhoods and not the residents who live there. That Cole is able to inject this in the narrative makes it all the better. For me, the best kind of horror/suspense stories take reality and tilt it just slightly on its axis. This hits the spot.
The only real issue I have with the book is Theo’s character. He’s fine, it just felt like he exists to service the plot more than anything. Which wouldn’t bother me, except that he’s a POV character so close to 50% of the book is focused on him. I was far more interested in Sydney.
But I wouldn’t dwell on this if you’re considering picking this one up. Buy it now. And remember to my fellow whites who are trying to learn more about racism: Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ijeoma Oluo, Angela Davis…they’re all great. But you can learn plenty about race too from black writers of your particular fiction genre.