Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Lesley Kara depicts the paranoia, fear, and frenzy that seizes a community when a dark secret comes to light and how one piece of gossip can be unimaginably destructive. Jo spreads the rumor about Sally McGowan to ingratiate herself with the local moms; Michael buys into it to further his career. Is there any benefit to gossiping?
2. Do secrets take on more power the more they’re shared? What about when they’re bottled up? Are we responsible for all the information—true or false—that we play a part in spreading?
3. Flinstead is home to people of different classes, and so Jo feels a pressure to play into the local mommy antics to help make opportunities for Alfie. Discuss the ways in which we perform and offer things up for the benefit of our children.
4. Jo struggles with having an unconventional family in a homogeneous town. Discuss a time when you felt like an outsider.
5. On page 208, Liz says, “There’s darkness in everyone’s soul . . . We’re all of us capable of evil thoughts and evil acts under certain circumstances.” Do you agree with her?
6. The Rumor is based on the British child killer Mary Bell, who strangled two toddlers and has lived under a series of pseudonyms since her release from prison. In one of the interludes written from Sally’s perspective, she mentions that living in secret under witness protection is a kind of hell. Do you think that living in constant vigilance with a secret that slowly devours you is a fitting punishment for Sally? Do you think she deserved to be punished more explicitly?
7. Marie goes after Alfie because she feels like Sally was never properly punished for killing Robbie. Do you agree with Marie’s eye for an eye mentality? What are the limits to the culpability of children?
8. Do you think Sally did the right thing not telling Jo who she really was? Did the italicized sections written in her voice help you to try and understand her?
9. If you were Jo, would you want to know the truth? Why or why not?