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Book Club Kits: Darling Rose Gold

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Book Summary

Mothers never forget. Daughters never forgive.
For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is the victim? Who is the perpetrator? What does it mean to be a victim in the context of this story?
  2. Who did you most empathize with throughout the book? Did your sympathies change chapter to chapter? If so, how?
  3. Patty’s actions are attributed to Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental health disorder. Should she have gone to prison if her behavior was caused by an illness beyond her control?
  4. Do Patty and Rose Gold love each other? How did your view of their relationship change throughout the book?
  5. Toward the end of the book, Rose Gold says, “Nobody wants to hear the truth from a liar.” Did you trust either of the narrators? At what points, if any, was that trust shaken?
  6. What did you think of Rose Gold’s final decision not to fix her teeth? To shave her head? How do societal beauty standards affect Rose Gold throughout the book?
  7. How much of our personalities are shaped by nature vs. nurture? Do you think Rose Gold and Patty would have committed their crimes had their childhoods been different?
  8. “Some of us cannot forget and will never forgive.” Do you think Rose Gold will ever be free of her mother’s influence? Were Rose Gold’s actions justifiable? What do you imagine her future will hold?
  9. What role did the residents of Deadwick play in the story? What characters had the biggest impact on Patty and/or Rose Gold? Why do you think Patty was able to keep her actions hidden for so long?
  10. Does Patty know she’s lying or has convinced herself she’s telling the truth? What makes you think so

Q & A With Stephanie Wrobel

How would you describe your debut novel, Darling Rose Gold?

Darling Rose Gold is a suspense novel that tells the story of a young woman who, despite being poisoned by her mother for eighteen years, makes a calculated decision to take her in after her prison sentence.

Where did the idea of Darling Rose Gold come from?

I learned about Munchausen syndrome by proxy from my best friend who is a school psychologist and has experience with the syndrome through her work with kids. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became.

What kind of research did you do on Munchausen syndrome by proxy? Did anything surprise you?

I researched the illness more generally before diving into specific cases. Since women commit far fewer violent crimes than men, I was surprised to learn that the perpetrators of MSBP are usually mothers. The mother-child relationship is supposed to be sacred, but here it isn’t. The perpetrators’ motivation also surprised me—they act out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community. Many health professionals consider MSBP incurable, as offenders typically deny any wrongdoing. All of these discoveries simultaneously intrigued me and broke my heart. Most of all, they made me want to walk around inside one of these mothers’ minds.

Did any real-life cases inspire the story?

The best book I’ve read on the topic is Julie Gregory’s memoir, Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood. One image from the book that has haunted me since is her mother telling her that matches were lollipops so she’d suck on them in the car, not realizing they were making her sick. That moment crystallized for me the automatic trust children give to their mothers. I also studied Michelle Dean’s article covering the story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard. Julie’s, Gypsy’s, and other victims’ stories informed Rose Gold’s medical history. The more cases I researched, the more I noticed the commonalities: infections, allergies, seizures, apnea, and digestive issues that require feeding tubes.

How is Darling Rose Gold different from other books featuring MSBP?

In a lot of stories featuring MSBP, the illness is the twist: something is wrong with a child, and the reader/viewer doesn’t discover until the end that the mother (or other parental figure) was the culprit all along. With Darling Rose Gold, the © Simon Wayreader knows what Patty is in prison for within the first two pages. The book is less about the what of MSBP and more about the why. Not only does the reader know what Patty has done, but they’re also forced to live inside her head and watch her rationalize these actions.

How is the complicated relationship between Rose Gold and Patty similar to other mother-daughter relationships?

Though their situation is unique, some elements of their relationship are universal. Rose Gold wants her mother’s love and approval but also seeks independence from her. I think most of us can relate to that. Patty wants to be needed, appreciated, even adored sometimes. She set her entire life aside to care for her daughter, and now she feels tossed aside. I suspect a lot of parents can relate to that feeling as well.

Beyond the MSBP, what makes their relationship tick?

At its worst, it’s—to put it mildly—dysfunctional. At its best, it’s loving and supportive. There were no siblings, father figure, or extended family in the picture, so Patty and Rose Gold have relied mostly on each other to survive. In the day to day, they drive each other nuts in the same way mothers and daughters have done for ages: a child who’s perceived as ungrateful, a parent who hovers, a nascent independence clashing with deeprooted dependence.

What challenges did you face while writing Darling Rose Gold?

The hardest part was getting Rose Gold’s voice right. She was socially isolated for most of her childhood, so both her worldview and vocabulary are limited to what Patty has taught her. At the beginning of the novel, she has not yet learned social norms or pop-culture references, which the rest of us take for granted. I was constantly going back and rephrasing sentences so they sounded less like me and more like her.

Your background is interesting—you are a former advertising copywriter and Darling Rose Gold is your MFA thesis and first novel—did you always intend on becoming an author?

I can remember wanting to be an author at eighteen— maybe even earlier, as I was always writing stories as a kid. But I didn’t actively work toward it until I began applying to graduate schools for creative writing. Before that, I’d come up with a story idea, write a chapter or two, then give up. The structure and rigor of the MFA program made me take my writing career seriously for the first time. I set a few goals for my time in the program—#1 was to start and finish my first novel.

Tell us about your literary influences. Who are your favorite writers and what kind of books do you love to read?

I am an equal opportunist—I can’t think of many kinds of books I don’t like to read! But I most frequently find myself with general fiction or suspense novels in hand. My favorite books hit the sweet spot of unputdownable and thought-provoking, like We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I also love books that creep me out, like We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. And I will always love authors who write badass female voices, from Taylor Jenkins Reid to Gillian Flynn to Maria Semple to Cheryl Strayed, and so many others.