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?
The Rumor Game by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra is an illuminating story on many teens’ serious issues today.
I was expecting a much different story based on the book description. I thought the book would be an out-there tale of private school hijinks but what I found was a somber book of genuine issues that face all teens today, no matter their skin color, their parent’s financial status, or the type of school they attend. It is problems born of social media and camera phones that take parents of teens by such surprise because we never had to face them ourselves.
The story covers so many issues: fat shaming and body image issues, bullying via social media, and the distribution of child pornography by teens, to name a few. I’ve handled many cases such as these as a school counselor, and I found the books’ depiction mostly accurate. There were a few elements that I can see that make this fictionalized and enter the realm of over-the-top. Only very rarely does this number of issues happen to one student as it does in this story. Instead, it is usually spread out among many students, as in:
- Student A is a victim of bullying via social media.
- Student B sent her boyfriend a nude photo of herself and found out that he sent it to others, and then someone posted it on social media.
- Student C is triggered when someone tells her how thin she is as a compliment.
- And so on.
I did like, however, how the authors showed how one decision by a student to protect herself had a domino effect that led to so much more and ruined many young lives as a consequence. There is a lot of truth to this. Teens often act from a selfish place that impacts many negatively if things are aligned just so, and they are unable to see beforehand the consequences of their actions. Their brain has not reached that level of development yet. In saying that, I do also feel that I should mention that they also won’t heed the warnings in this story. Instead, they will think that couldn’t happen to them. But, adults realize that this very quickly can happen. So, I would say even though this is intended for a teen audience, it would be a much more compelling story for the parents of teens who did not grow up with camera-ready cell phones and social media. Parents don’t know what can happen but are in a better position to see the possibilities from the story and have the needed talks with their teens.
I didn’t find any of the characters particularly relatable or well-developed. They are a bit stereotypical though a few of them – the three that narrate this story in first-person POV – are a bit more fleshed out. Those three are Cora, Bryn, and Georgie. I especially loved the diversity in these characters, as well as the support characters, and the cultural components that came into the story as a result. Those details come across as authentic, and I felt that I took away from the book a better understanding of the family dynamics in a few different cultures.
I also enjoyed the pace of the book. It is rather lengthy, but the pace stays quick from start to finish so that it reads very quickly. I also enjoyed including social media posts, comments, and text messages between the students, which helped keep that pace up and provided compelling points in the story.
I would highly recommend this story for the parents of teens even more than for the teens themselves. Complex topics are handled respectfully with just enough details to be understood but not so many details that the story crosses the line into gratuitousness or overly graphic. If you want to learn more about the perils of teens today, The Rumor Game is an excellent read for you.