About The Book:
Title: THE RUMOR GAME
Author: Dhonielle Clayton & Sona Charaipotra
Pub. Date: March 1, 2022
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
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?
From Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, authors of the Tiny Pretty Things duology (now a Netflix series), comes the edge-of-your-seat social thriller everyone will be talking about.
“A juicy, elegant, absolutely flawless thriller with a twist. It’s the diverse Gossip Girl we’ve been waiting for!”―Tiffany D. Jackson, New York Times best-selling author of Grown and White Smoke
rumor [ rü-m r]: noun
1) a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation of certainty as to facts
2) gossip; hearsay
3) archaic. a continuous, confused noise; clamor; din 4) can destroy your life
From: Online Petition
To: Bryn Colburn
Sent: October 10, 7:29 AM
Subject: Stand with the Student Body, Move Up Special Election!
To: Principal Rollins of Foxham Preparatory Academy REMOVE BRYN COLBURN IMMEDIATELY
By signing this petition, the students of Foxham Preparatory Academy stand in solidarity and implore you and the school faculty to remove senior Bryn Colburn as student body president in order to keep our academic environment safe. She doesn’t represent good morals and doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle the pressure, the spotlight or represent our community. She is unfit to lead us. The special election on November 8 is too far away, and the students deserve to have an immediate say. Remove her and appoint Cora Davidson as interim president until the students cast their ballots.
Click here to sign our petition
FRIdAY, OCTObER 11
THE THING ABOUT THIS YEAR IS THAT I MIGHT DO ANY THING to get my old life back.
Mom would use her rehab checklist to flag this new attitude as . . . headed for trouble. Maybe. Potentially.
But I think it finally makes me feel like myself again. Determined. Focused. Razor-sharp.
“You sure we should be doing this?” Georgie asks, obsessively flip ping down my car’s vanity mirror. Her thick black hair is everywhere: across the car seat headrest, on her shoulders, some of it piled in a loose bun. I don’t understand how she has so much, how it grew out so fast from the kiddie bowl cut she still had at the end of eighth grade when we stopped carpooling. Mine barely grows, and my side ponytail sits on my shoulder like the sad, wet tail of a dog.
When I stop at a red light, I pet my hair, trying not to think about how the doctor said stress has thinned it out around my temples, and how at some point it might actually turn into an accidental mullet. All on its own. Then everyone will think I’m a trashy white girl from Hicksville, Virginia, while Georgie’s a reincarnated Indian goddess. I should get hair vitamins or something.
“Shouldn’t your hands be on the wheel?” she says, her nose crinkling up. I notice she’s gotten freckles on her face. I didn’t know people with brown skin could get freckles, and I feel stupid at the thought. I’ve known her so long. Well, not really. She’s been my next-door neighbor, forced-carpool-person-type thing forever. I don’t actually know her know her. But since our fathers started working together this summer, it’s been all “Can you hang out with Georgie and make a good impression?” blah, blah. If I’m honest with myself—like the Colburn family therapist wants me to be—then I’d admit I don’t have any real friends left and she’s the only person I have to hang out with. It’s been five terrible, lonely weeks since school started.
I wave my hands higher in the air. “It’s fine.”
The light turns green. I rev the engine a little just to make her jump. I laugh. She laughs, too, but it’s forced.
“This is a bad idea, don’t you think?” she asks.
“I can still go places,” I remind her, but I catch her eye, her message clear: But for how much longer? The whole school has turned against me because of what happened at the end of the summer.
But I have a plan to turn it all around. I have the whole thing mapped out in my notebook. My get-my-life-back-on-track plan. “I need to talk to him. If I can just get him to hear me out . . .” “Him him?”
“You could text him.”
“I’ve been doing that for weeks. He leaves me on read.” I don’t want to say my ex-boyfriend’s name out loud yet. “And I’m not a girl who will be ignored.” I try to summon the old courage I always had to speak my mind.
She shrugs. “We just shouldn’t be going.”
“Why not? Those are just your fears talking. Have faith.” When your dad is a politician, you get good at convincing people to do things. I turn right, then left, like my car’s on autopilot. I could drive the whole way to my ex-friend Cora’s house with my eyes closed. I need to talk to her, too, but one person at a time. First, Jase. Second, Cora. Third, Mom.
Georgie winces. “I can think of a hundred different reasons why. Number one: we’re not invited.”
I steal another glimpse of her. She’s so beautiful now. A summer away and she doesn’t even feel like that nerd anymore. “What?” she asks, catching me looking at her.
“Nothing,” I reply.
I wonder if she pities me because I’ve lost all my friends. Or if her dad also pushed her to hang out with me. If it’s mutually beneficial at all.
“We’re almost there, so . . .” I start.
“So we could still turn back.”
She looks at me. Her eyes are bigger and brighter now that she’s learned to line them, now that she’s paying attention to the way she looks, now that she’s become a new version of herself. She’s lost at least forty pounds.
“How did it feel . . . to, like, lose all that weight?” It just comes out all hard, and I wish I’d softened it.
“Fine. The program was mostly running and gymnastics.” She zips the words up in her mouth and volleys between watching my speed on the dashboard and texting on her phone.
I turn onto Cora’s street. “We’re here.”
Cora’s circular driveway is packed with luxury cars, even some Secret Service vehicles, as if it were a black-tie soiree instead of a high school party. Her house is impressive. Better than the ones in my neighborhood. It’s really old-school, a miniature—but not by much—of a traditional plantation home, with pristine white shutter, and a manicured lawn, the tulips color-coded like a scene out of one of those old racist Southern movies. Except the family that lives here is Black. Cora’s dad is a Harvard-bred lawyer who works for the president. Cora’s twin sister, Millie, is a genius, and already at Harvard, even though she’s only seventeen and should be a senior like the rest of us.
I screech the car to a stop.
“Careful,” Georgie says, and I can feel the anxiety creeping up her spine and settling onto her shoulders.
“I thought I saw a cat.”
“Where? I didn’t see anything.”
“It’s fine, Georgie. Chill. Still getting used to the brakes on the new car, okay?” I turn the engine off and glare at the Nigerian flag plastered on the back window of the SUV in front of us. Abaeze Onyekachi’s car. An angry knot hardens in me at the sight of it. Wonder if anyone’s slashed his tires before? Wonder if I should be the first to do it?
“Do I look all right?” Georgie asks, flipping down the car’s vanity mirror to check her hair and makeup for the seventh time. She’s wearing an expensive V-neck tee and strategically ripped-up skinny jeans, and the whole outfit hugs her a little, but in all the right places. I picked it out for her, modeled how to wear it correctly. We spent hours in my pool house turned bedroom going through it all earlier tonight.
“Why are you stressing?” I ask. “I thought you didn’t want to come?” “This is, like, a big deal for me,” she whispers. “It’s my first real party.”
I guess it is. I used to see her watching me and my friends from her window as we’d sneak out or have parties in my pool-house bedroom. Never once did I think to invite her over. She was that kind of acquaintance you couldn’t take with you anywhere. Someone might say something. But she was perfectly nice. And boring.
“You look great,” I say, and mean it.
“You picked everything out,” she replies.
“But you’re wearing it. Take credit.” Always know how to sell yourself. A good politician gets that, too.
We walk around to the back, and bodies are everywhere. All the popular people from Foxham Prep and even some of their personal bodyguards. Our school is a place where kids with important parents go—diplomats, government people, celebrities, etc.
Groups circle a fire pit on an elaborate patio, while others lounge around the heated pool. Heat lamps reach above the water like red-hot fingers. In the distance, a huge bonfire rages. Tiny sparks flicker in the air like fireflies. It’s that weird blend of too warm for October during the day, but cool during the night. That’s DC for you. Mid-Atlantic weather chaos.
I tug at the stringy bottoms of my hair, braiding and unbraiding it, ignoring the split ends, and thinking about how different fall break was for me at this time last year. I was with Christine, Bian, Cora, Baez, Rico, and the rest of the crew in Ocean City. We laughed. We tanned. We fell asleep outside.
People stop and look up at Georgie and me. Some giggle. Others whisper to each other. Boys from the lacrosse team—some friends with Jase—nudge and point.
Heat gathers in my cheeks. I know I have an ugly batch of hives dot ted all over my neck.
Calm down, I tell myself, willing my fear response to chill the hell out.
A few people call out at us. At me, really. Taunts.
Georgie bristles and yanks me forward.
There are three kegs set up in the outdoor kitchen, along with chips, salsa, guacamole, fruit salad, and platters of finger foods. Uninspired food. Lackluster. That was my role. Cora hasn’t found anyone else to help menu plan. Clearly.
I wave at all my hecklers, bowing.
“Why’d you do that?” she whispers hard.
“What was I supposed to do?”
“I can’t ignore them,” I say.
If only she knew how true that was. I keep a file on my computer full of screenshots of social media comments and articles written about me after the incident happened. I recorded every word of every comment people made about me. I tracked all the lies, all the rumors. I watched it spiral. I had to know. I had to be prepared.
“Yes, you can. Pretend they aren’t talking to you.”
“Uh, thanks for the brilliant advice,” I snap, then feel a pinch of regret when I see surprise flicker across her face.
“I know plenty about ignoring people, and about being ignored,” she says. “Or did you forget?” Her eyes burn into mine.
“I know.” I touch her arm. I can’t do this alone. “I’m sorry. I just . . . Let’s get beers. I need a little liquid courage.” I walk out of view of Jase’s idiot friends.
“Too many calories. I’m going to go mix something”—she points over past the pool—“at that bar thing over there. Maybe seltzer or a diet soda. Be right back.”
“Okay.” I push away a twinge of fear as she walks away. I used to be afraid of nothing. I’d march into a party like this one and announce I had arrived, that the most stimulating conversation of the night could begin. But now my nerves feel like I’ve swallowed an earthquake.
I stare into the house through the windows. Couples find dark corners to curl up in. A group sits around a table, playing cards. People zip through the back door, wrapped in towels and headed for the pool. Last year, I was the first one over at Cora’s house to set up, and the last one to leave the next day. I used to be somebody: someone you wanted to sit with at lunch or hang with in my pool-house bedroom, someone you hoped followed you back on social media.
Now no one talks to me. It’s weird how one bad decision can change your entire high school status, your entire family, your entire life. And I need it to go away.
Focus on your list, I tell myself. Jase first.
I guzzle the beer in my cup and fill it up again. I’m driving, so I know this will be the last one. But right now I need to soften the edges a little.
“Did you forget that no one likes you anymore?” Chance Olivieri points his camera at me, zooming in and out. It’s old, clunky, vintage. “Have anything to say about it? Give me an exclusive and I might let you be part of my documentary.”
My rival since the third grade. His greasy too-long hair flops over the camera, and his pale cheeks are permanently flushed. Everyone used to call him a clown and make fun of the rosacea.
“You wish. I won’t be part of your trash, and I won’t let you take student body president from me. You’ll lose that special election.” “I won’t . . . and we both know it. Nobody likes the scorned ex who bullies and almost kills the other woman. Not a good look. Never gets sympathy. Prepare yourself, sweetie.” Chance pushes his camera closer to my face. “Plus, this documentary is going to win a prize one day. I’ll be famous. It’ll expose the bullshit social hierarchy of high school.” Yes, he’s for real.
Chance Olivieri was the one who had the most to say after everything happened, like he reveled in sharing every newspaper headline and TV clip. Even made daily video recaps of what I did and all the bad press and comments swarming me and my family. My dad says he’ll end up as a sleazy tabloid reporter or something one day. Doesn’t have the vision to be a real journalist or filmmaker.
I put my hand up to block him. “You’ve been doing this stupid crap since ninth grade, and you’ve still got nothing. Maybe it’s time to give it up and get a life,” I spit back. “Or a girlfriend.”
“Maybe you should get a boyfriend. Oh, wait, you almost killed the last one.”
He blows a kiss at me.
I sneer and turn to walk away. I go past the pool. Everyone stares. Someone splashes at me. The back of my jeans get soaked. I bite my bottom lip. I refuse to cry. There have been too many tears. Never cry when the cameras are on.
I spot Jase and some friends in the gazebo. The boys all dangle out of it, laughing and roughhousing.
My heart drops into my stomach. I need him to forgive me. I need him to tell people to stop attacking me online over what happened. I need to get all my friends back. He’s the one who can make it all go away. I clench my fists and take a deep breath, then walk up.
The guys stop laughing and stare. Jase looks up, surprised. His cold blue gaze still sends a tingle through me. He has blond stubble, an almost beard now, and looks like the South Carolina beach boy he was meant to be. God, he’s hot. No wonder I was so into him. Too into him. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
They ooh and aah.
I keep my eyes squarely on him, not breaking contact, bracing for him to say no.
“Sure.” He flashes a perfect smile, and his friends slap his arm and back.
But I don’t care. That tiny word is an unexpected firework. One step forward.
He gets up and walks toward me. But not far enough away from the gazebo. Everyone snickers and listens, eager for a show. My heart beats so hard, I feel like I’m going to vomit it up.
“What’s up?” His Southern accent slips between slurred words. “I just . . . just wanted to talk to you about what happened. I didn’t get a chance to explain.”
He flashes a big, strange smile. “Sure.”
That word again. For some reason, it unsettles me. I’d been expecting a no, expecting to convince him. It knocks me off what I’d practiced when I imagined this moment. “It’s . . . it was . . . my parents. That night. I’d found out something big . . . really bad. I wasn’t thinking. I was super upset. It all got into my head, so when you didn’t answer . . . I thought—I thought—”
Jase put his hand in the air. “It’s okay.”
My mouth drops open. “Really?” A weight starts to lift from my shoulders, and I’m not sure if it’s the beer.
“I know where you’re going with all this, and I get it,” he replies. “You do?” My heart lifts for the first time in weeks.
“Of course I do.” He takes my hand. The heat of it sends a familiar surge through me. I want his touch back so much. “I know how crazy you are. Like your mom. Isn’t she still in rehab? Shouldn’t you be, too?” His charming smile darkens. “Like mother, like daughter. You’re both nuts.”
I stiffen and yank my hand back. Since the end of August, I’ve been called crazy 3,797 times and nuts 1,890 on all social media platforms. And who knows how many more times in group chats and private DMs—the ones I’ve been kicked out of.
Crazy is a terrible word.
Jase laughs, and it creates a ripple. The smirks, the chuckles, the pity, the hate. The guys break into raucous laughter.
“You don’t know the whole story,” I say. “If you would just let me—” My pulse races, its beat flooding my ears. The pitch and crescendo of the laughter stretch and warp as if I’m trapped in a messed-up fun house where everything bounces back at me. The bodies blur. Party sounds become a nauseous hum. Like everything is underwater. “I don’t want to talk to you,” he yells. “Don’t give a shit about what you have to say. I’m done with you. Sasha has better tits, anyways.” All the guys cheer. A knot hardens in my stomach. I clench my teeth. I hold back rage tears as he fumbles toward the gazebo with his friends. I square my shoulders and walk away. This was so stupid. It was too soon. I didn’t think it through enough. The rehearsal in my head, in my bedroom, in my notebook, jumbled. I’d even kept my distance the first several weeks of school to prepare. It all went wrong. I have to find Georgie. We have to get out of here. I wipe my face. Chance saunters past again with his camera. “Tsk, tsk. Show didn’t go as planned, huh? No one buying your lies? Everyone knows what a bitch you are.” He holds out a piece of paper and shakes it at me. “Want to sign this petition? I’m trying to get you removed as student body president a little early, you see. I’ve already got over fifty signatures.” “Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP!”
“Wouldn’t you like that? But nope, I’m good.”
“I’m looking for Georgie—and trust me—I’ll be out of here.” “She went in the house with Baez,” he reported. “Even she’s done with you.”
My anger flashes hot. I shove him into the pool with his camera. He makes a huge splash.
That shuts him up good.
Net loss of followers:
Friday 9:34 PM
Where are you?
You said you were just getting seltzer.
Are you ignoring me?
Things went bad. I tried to talk to him.
I feel weird. I wanna go.
Friday 9:45 PM
I’m in the bathroom. Spilled my drink.
Gimme a minute.
Friday 9:46 PM
I’ll be in the car. Hurry up.
About Dhonielle Clayton:
Dhonielle Clayton is the New York Times best-selling author of the Belles series, The Mirror: Shattered Midnight, and the coauthor of Blackout and the Tiny Pretty Things duology, now a Netflix original series. She hails from the Washington, DC, suburbs on the Maryland side. She taught secondary school for several years, and is a former elementary and middle school librarian. She is COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, and president of Cake Creative, an IP story kitchen dedicated to diverse representation. She’s an avid traveler, and always on the hunt for magic and mischief. Up next: The Marvellers, her middle grade fantasy debut. You can find her on social media @brownbookworm.
About Sona Charaipotra:
Sona Charaipotra is the author of Symptoms of a Heartbreak and How Maya Got Fierce, and coauthor of the Tiny Pretty Things duology, now a Netflix original series. She earned her master’s in screenwriting from NYU and an MFA in creative writing from the New School. A working journalist, Sona has held editorial roles at People, TeenPeople, ABCNews.com, MSN, and most recently, the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog (RIP), and contributed to publications from the New York Times to TeenVogue. She is a former We Need Diverse Books board member, and co-founder of CAKE Literary, a
boutique book packager focused on high-concept diverse titles. Find her on the web talking about books, Bollywood movies, and chai.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE RUMOR GAME, US Only.
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