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The Poison Garden Reader’s Guide

By Alex Marwood

The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. While working as a journalist, the author both trained as a hypnotist and profiled a stadium evangelist. How do you think these experiences might have influenced this story?

2. To some degree, cults have become a very popular topic in books, film, podcasts, and more. Why do you think people find them so fascinating? Why in particular now?

3. Most people think they would never join a cult—until some do. Why did Alison join the Ark? Do her reasons make sense to you?

4. When Romy leaves the Ark, she has to learn how to function in modern society. What do you think would be most difficult for you to adapt to? What seems easy and normal to you that might be difficult for someone who has never experienced it?

5. After everything Romy went through at the Ark, why do you think she was so desperate to get back?

6. Cult leaders can make people do things that seem inexplicable to anyone on the outside. How did Lucien brainwash his followers? How can such toxic ideas and practice become so normalized?

7. Bullying comes up in this novel through the presence of Marie. How does this connect thematically to the Ark?

8. Were you surprised when Romy made her first kill? Why do you think she is capable of such violence?

9. Toward the end, Somer finally sees the horrors of Lucien and the Ark. What did it take for her to finally understand? Why don’t you think she saw it sooner?

10. Did you expect Romy to go through with killing Eden? Were you shocked by what happened when she couldn’t?

11. Why do you think that everyone from Sarah to the social workers failed to save Romy? What could they have done differently?

12. Romy goes through so many things and goes to such lengths to protect her family, yet she is also a murderer multiple times over. By the end, did you feel sympathetic toward Romy?

13. What do you think Romy will do now that she is back with Uri at Cairngorm?

14. Why do you think Sarah decided to go with Romy and Ilo to Cairngorm? Does it make sense to you, given everything she has said about cults throughout the book?

15. Alex Marwood’s books have been praised for their emphasis on psychologically complex characters. Who did you find most interesting in this book and why? Who did you like or dislike? Who did you feel sorry for?

16. From the outside, Lucien and the Ark are obviously pure evil, and yet Romy and her siblings refuse to believe it. Have you encountered any situations where you couldn’t sway someone from an obviously toxic belief? What worked or didn’t? After reading about Sarah’s experiences, what would you do in such a situation?

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