The Power of Gossip
The Rumor Game Book Cover The Rumor Game
Dhonielle Clayton & Sona Charaipotra
March 1, 2022
Kindle, Hardcover

All it takes is one spark to start a blaze. At Foxham Prep, a posh private school for the children of DC’s elite, a single rumor has the power to ruin a life. Nobody knows that better than Bryn. She used to have it all—the perfect boyfriend, a bright future in politics, and even popularity, thanks to her best friend, cheer captain Cora. Then one mistake sparked a scandal that burned it all to the ground. Now it’s the start of a new school year and the spotlight has shifted: It’s geeky Georgie, newly hot after a summer makeover, whose name is on everyone’s lips. When a rumor ignites, Georgie rockets up the school’s social hierarchy, pitting her and Cora against each other. It grants her Foxham stardom . . . but it also makes her a target. As the rumors grow and morph, blazing like wildfire through the school’s social media, all three girls’ lives begin to unravel. But one person close to the drama has the power to stop the gossip in its tracks. The question is—do they even want to?

What Makes Something True?

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I am often grateful, when I look back on my high school and college years, that camera phones took blurry photos, and that social media was completely new. The most damaging thing we could do online was set a passive aggressive, underhandedly inflammatory, away message on AIM. Rumors could still fly around the halls of the high school, or through the dorms in college, but they didn’t take on the same life of their own that they do now with Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok. If you have teenagers in your life, you know how quickly a misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, can be blown out of proportion. The warped version of the story seems to become true to everyone, except the victim, who is left standing on the sidelines trying desperately to convince their community that there is more to the story. And so, teens end up asking themselves: what makes something true? Is it true because it is said by someone influential? Is it true because the majority believes it? Is it true because it is all over social media and/or the Internet? Does the truth need to be backed up by unbiased evidence (sadly, the answer is usually no). The way that rumors seem to become true, and end up ruining lives and reputations, fuels the storyline of Clayton’s and Chariapotra’s The Rumor Game, leaving readers with a realistic view of the challenges and pressures imposed on our teenagers by social media.

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To be clear, I don’t hate social media. It is a great way to keep up with family and friends, since I know they definitely want to see 27 billion pictures of my dogs and my daughter. But, as a former high school teacher and coach, I saw events like those portrayed in The Rumor Game happen with disturbing regularity, just without the glitter of mansions, society functions, and expensive cars. Whether people live in an urban, suburban, or rural area; whether they have wealth or not… none of those things matter when it comes to how rumors can ruin hopes and dreams, and sometimes end in tragedy. I think the authors did an excellent job of depicting the inner struggles teenagers face relating to issues of weight and attractiveness, race, desire, ambition, and the social hierarchy. Topics like sexual abuse, trauma, and self- esteem were treated with care, while still being realistic. I also appreciated that the authors included a list of resources for readers who may be dealing with various types of trauma in their notes at the end of the book, revealing true empathy for their intended audience. This book would be valuable reading for those who work with teens, and for parents of children of all ages.

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I struggled with assigning a rating to this book. On the one hand, it is timely, and carries a good message. But on the other hand, the main characters were often hard to connect with, and the story stretched on for so long that at times it become convoluted, and ridiculous. Still, as noted above, I think it is a good pick for parents, educators, mental health workers, and the like, who want to understand where kids are coming from when they talk about comments, likes, and mentions, and why those things are so important.

Trigger Warning: sexual abuse, bullying, eating disorders and mental illness.