The second book in an exciting and inspiring new series from national bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley
They share a precious gift. . . .
Joining Rachel Jackson's church youth group has been a lifesaver for Camille, Alexis, Jasmine, and Angel. The fabulous four share everything from juicy gossip to mentoring school kids. But their loyalty is put to the test when two of the girls get caught up in problems of their own and may drag their girlfriends down with them.
Will they forget who their friends are?
Wealthy Alexis seems to have the perfect life but no one can see her fear as her parents head for divorce. Meanwhile, Jasmine is tired of being the glue that holds her mother and siblings together, and she escapes by moving in with her father. Both girls are tempted to do something drastic to get the attention they crave, and both need to hear Rachel's hard-won advice on why stealing will only get them more trouble. But when it comes to winning back Camille and Angel's trust, Alexis and Jasmine will have to find the answers in their own hearts.
About the Author
ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 nationally bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced four hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, A Blessing & a Curse, and Fortune & Fame. BET released a movie in 2013 based on ReShonda’s book Let the Church Say Amen in which she had a minor role. She also had a role in the made-for-TV movie The Secret She Kept based on her book of the same title. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @ReShondaT.
Read an Excerpt
Blessings in Disguise
By ReShonda Tate Billingsley
All right reserved.
It oughta be a crime for somebody to talk so much.
"I mean, can you believe she had on panty hose with sandals? She looked like a country bumpkin." Trina rambled on like she was in a marathon talking contest.
I needed to get away from this girl before I killed her. Or myself. Well, not literally. But trust me when I say the way that Trina King was working my nerves, I sure thought about it.
"Aren't you glad you came to the mall with us?" Trina said, in that high-pitched Daffy Duck voice of hers.
I glared at her but didn't say anything. Shoot, I was still trying to figure out how I ended up at the mall with Alexis and her bourgie friend, Trina. If you looked up the word Trina in the dictionary, they'd probably have annoying next to it. Because that girl was the most annoying person I'd ever met.
"What, cat got your tongue?" Trina laughed like that cornball stuff was even funny. When I didn't laugh with her she turned toward Alexis. "Where did you find this sourpuss?"
Alexis laughed. "I told you, that's just how Jasmine is." She playfully hit my arm. I rolled my eyes.
Trina turned to say something to me again. I shot her a look to say don't bother.
I didn't even think it was the fact that Trina thought she was all that that mademe sick. I think it was that high-pitched Daffy Duck voice and the way she was always swinging her long "top-of-the-line weave," as she called it, back and forth. Horsehair was horsehair, but she swore hers was imported from India so that made her special or something. I didn't think so.
"I think she's just jealous because we've been friends for so long," Trina said as she put her arm through Alexis's. "She doesn't want anyone messing up y'all little Good Girlz circle. But tell her, Alexis. We've been friends since junior high school. She can't compete with that."
Trina flashed a wide smile. I wanted to tell her that nobody was trying to compete with her funky behind. And no, I didn't like her being in the Good Girlz, but it wasn't like I had a choice. Trina had joined the Good Girlz a month ago after getting into some trouble at her school. Like the rest of us, she had come reluctantly. After all, the Good Girlz was a community service group for teens who had been in minor trouble. The group was sponsored by a Houston-area church called Zion Hill. Even though none of us really wanted to be in the group in the beginning, we'd come to love it. And now, it looked like Trina had, too.
"Jazzy, don't get all sensitive on me," Trina playfully said. "I'm just playing with you, girl."
I still couldn't do anything but look at her crazy. I knew I was probably being a butthole, but try as I might, I just couldn't click with that girl. Neither could Camille or Angel, the other original members of the group. Trina was rich and uppity. Alexis was a little bit, too, but I had gotten used to Alexis. She'd rubbed me the wrong way when we first met a year ago. But now that I knew her, I just ignored her bourgie comments because I knew she had a good heart.
Trina, on the other hand, could work a nerve!
"Jazzy-Jo, why you all quiet?" Trina asked me as we made our way into yet another department store. She swung her hair back as she sashayed her tiny frame into the store.
"For the one-trillionth time, my name is Jasmine Jones. Not Jaz, not Jazzy, not Jazzy-Jo. Just Jasmine, a'ight?" I rolled my eyes and stuffed my hands in my pockets as I followed her and Alexis inside.
Trina stopped and turned toward me. "Dang, girl. Chill. Why are you such a grouch?"
Alexis smiled at me. "Jasmine is always a grouch," she said playfully.
"Whatever," I replied.
"Well, if you gon' be walking around here acting all funny, why'd you even bother to come?" Trina said.
I stared at Trina. Why had I come? While I liked Alexis, as soon as she said Trina was with her I should've said forget it. But my brothers were driving me insane; I was just about to hurt the youngest one when Alexis called and asked if I wanted to go to the mall. I'd seen it as the lesser of two evils.
I sighed. "I'm not being a grouch. But we've been at the mall for two hours and we haven't bought anything. Or y'all haven't bought anything, 'cause you know I ain't got no money today." Shoot, who was I kidding? I never had any money. My family put the po in poor. I couldn't tell you the last time I went shopping.
"Oh, chill out," Trina said as she made her way out of the store and into another one. "We're window-shopping, right, Alexis?"
Alexis looked uncomfortable for a minute. But she quickly snapped out of it and said, "Right. Window-shopping."
I ignored the funny look and followed them both into the store. I was surprised when they didn't start in on me about buying some new clothes. They were always trying to make me over. They claimed I looked like a tomboy because I was almost six feet tall, wore warm-ups all the time, and didn't see any purpose in makeup.
After ten minutes, I leaned against the wall and took in the sights while Trina and Alexis browsed around. Right about now I wished Camille and Angel were around. They'd at least keep me company. I people-watched for several more minutes before looking around for Alexis and Trina. I spotted them coming out of the dressing room.
"Are you all ready to go?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm done," Trina and Alexis said in unison.
We hurried out of the store, then out of the mall. We had barely closed the doors on the car when both of them busted out laughing.
"Oh my God!" Alexis exclaimed. "That was too easy."
"I told you," Trina said. "Piece of cake."
I was sitting in the backseat and had no idea what they were talking about. "What was a piece of cake?" I asked, leaning up in the seat.
Trina looked all sneaky and stuff. "This," she said as she pulled clothes out from under her shirt.
My eyes almost jumped out of their sockets. Trina was holding up three pink Baby Phat T-shirts, all with the price tags still hanging on them.
"Trina, tell me you did not steal those," I said.
Trina smiled. "Okay, I won't tell you, then." She tossed the shirts at Alexis and turned around and started up the car.
I looked at Alexis, waiting to see the shock register on her face as well. Instead, she held the shirt up to her chest and said, "Girl, I'm going to look cute in this."
"I can't believe this," I said as I stared at the T-shirts.
"What? Girl, I got one for you," Trina said.
I looked at Trina like she'd lost her mind. "You are insane." I turned back to Alexis. "And you knew about this? You know my grandma is crazy. You trying to get me killed?"
"What's the big deal? We didn't get caught," Alexis said as Trina navigated onto the freeway. This really shocked me because the Alexis I'd come to know over the last year was sweet and straitlaced. Forget the fact that her family was loaded, stealing was just something I never thought she'd be down with.
"Plus, Alexis didn't take them. I did," Trina added, pulling me out of my thoughts. "She's too good to take things without paying for them anymore," she joked.
Anymore? I couldn't believe my ears. Judging from the designer jeans, top, and rhinestone belt that Trina had on, she could have bought plenty of T-shirts. And God knew Alexis could've bought the whole dang factory. I mean, her daddy owned a hotel and everybody knew he was loaded.
"Alexis, this is totally crazy," I said. "You have money. You have it made. And you gon' put my life in jeopardy? We could go to jail, and for what? Some stupid T-shirts?"
"You can go to jail for jaywalking but people still do it," Trina said as she switched lanes.
Alexis shrugged. "Don't worry about it. The stores have insurance. They're covered. Plus, they overcharge for this stuff anyway."
I sat back in my seat, dumbfounded. Don't get me wrong. I'm from the hood. I know some thieves. But they're hood rats, or people who steal to survive, or they steal to feed their kids. Alexis and Trina had to be the richest girls I'd ever met in my life. Their stealing made no sense to me.
Alexis turned around to face me in the backseat. "Jasmine, it's really no big . . . oh my God!" Alexis said with a look of horror across her face as she stared out of the back window. I turned to see what she was looking at.
I swear I thought I was going to pass out when I saw the flashing lights pull up behind us. Trina looked back, too, then seemed to quickly lose that confidence she'd had just a minute ago.
"I cannot believe you two are so stupid," I hissed as I turned back around and folded my arms across my chest.
"Shut up," Trina said, suddenly looking all nervous. She pulled the car over.
Alexis didn't say anything. She just sat in the front seat with a terrified look across her face.
The officer walked up to the car. "Evening, ladies. License and registration, please."
I think that had to be the closest I'd ever come to peeing on myself.
"Hello, Officer. Do you mind telling me what I was doing wrong?" Trina said with a fake smile as she reached into the glove compartment.
"I think you know what you did," the officer said.
I wanted to throw myself on his mercy and tell him I had nothing to do with the theft. I wanted to cry and beg him not to take me to jail. I just knew it was all over. They were going to throw me in a cell with someone named Big Sexy. Maybe I'd get lucky and get a cell with my cousin, Shanae, who was in jail for stabbing her husband's girlfriend. Shanae would watch my back. Oh, who was I kidding? I wasn't ready to go to jail. Everyone thought I was hard, but I'd just learned to keep my guard up because people were always giving me a hard time.
"You were going eighty in a sixty-mile-an-hour zone."
The police officer's words snapped me out of my thoughts. He took the papers Trina handed him.
I don't know about Trina and Alexis, but I wanted to turn backflips when he said that. He was stopping us for speeding.
"I am so sorry," Trina purred. "I didn't realize I was going that fast."
"Well, you were," the officer said as he looked over her insurance and registration. After a minute, he looked back up. "I see you're a 100 Club member," he said, pointing to the police support organization sticker on the back of her car.
Trina's smile grew wider. "Actually, my father is one of your biggest supporters."
The officer smiled. "Yeah, the 100 Club is a great organization. They help a lot of officers who have been hurt in the line of duty."
"I definitely agree."
It was a good thing the officer was wearing boots because Trina was shoveling it out good.
"Well, Miss King," the officer said, handing her back her license and registration. "You slow it down now, you hear?"
Trina took her stuff and smiled again. "Thank you, Officer."
I think we all held our breath until he got back to his car.
"You'd better be glad I don't carry a gun, because I would shoot you in the head right now," I growled to Trina.
"You are so violent, Jasmine." She laughed.
I sat up in the seat. "Ain't nothing funny," I said. "Do you know how close we came to going to jail? And for what, some freakin' T-shirts?"
Trina looked at me in the rearview mirror. "Stop being a Goody Two-shoes. It's just clothes. Besides, we thought you'd want in."
I looked at her like she was crazy. "Well, you thought wrong."
Trina just laughed as she pulled back into traffic. "Oh, well, more money for us," she told Alexis.
I looked at Alexis. "What is she talking about, more money?"
Alexis bit down on her lip like she didn't know what to say.
"Darling," Trina said in her best British accent, "we're about to open shop, selling the latest fashions at prices the competition just can't beat. And we're about to get paid!"
She high-fived Alexis while I continued to sit in the backseat with my mouth hanging open. Just what their little entrepreneurial plan entailed, I didn't even want to know.
Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Excerpted from Blessings in Disguise by ReShonda Tate Billingsley Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Say Amen, Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author ReShonda Tate Billingsley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Rachel Adams is trying to find a way to forgive her husband, Pastor Lester Adams, for having an affair. Her task is made all the more difficult by the reappearance of his former mistress, Mary Richardson, in their family’s church. Now pregnant, Mary claims that Lester is the child’s father and is intent on seducing him away from Rachel. Meanwhile, a tragedy rocks the foundation of the Adams family and everyone involved is confronted with an ultimate decision of forgiveness.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What does Rachel’s dream in the novel’s opening chapter reveal about her fears? How is she able to overcome these fears by the end of the book?
2. Despite Lester’s continual refusal of her affections, Mary protests that the love she feels for him is real. Do you think this is true?
3. Rachel fears that her anger is interfering with her growth as a Christian. Do you agree with her decision to leave the church until Mary is removed? Likewise, do you think Mary should be removed from the church—or do you agree with Deacon Jacobs’s assessment that “if they kicked one transgressor out, they had to kick them all out” (p. 14)?
4. Mary’s visit from her mother, Margaret, is unwelcome and reinforces why Mary removed Margaret from her life in the first place. How does Mary feel when she sees her mother? How do you think Mary’s relationship with her mother has influenced her as a person?
5. Mary’s dealing ex-boyfriend, Craig, is another unwelcome visitor who brings “nothing but trouble” when he comes around. Is there anything Mary could have done to rid Craig from her life and leave her past behind? Or do you think her past was always destined to follow her?
6. Fed up with Aunt Minnie’s constant judgment of his family, Simon reveals a few of her deepest secrets to prove that she’s not as perfect as she pretends to be. As Simon says, do you think she “had that coming”?
7. Although Bobby never makes an appearance in this novel, Rachel can’t help but think about him from time to time. She wonders if chasing after him in the past influenced Lester’s affair with Mary. Do you feel that Rachel is right to take on part of the blame for Lester’s affair?
8. After Rachel’s interaction with Pastor Terrance Ellis at Lily Grove Church, she felt humiliated for having misunderstood the pastor’s intentions. Did you also think Pastor Ellis was coming on to Rachel? How did you react to her reasoning that having an affair of her own would help her recover from Lester’s affair? Have you ever felt a similar urge to seek some kind of revenge?
9. Did Roderick’s suicide take you by surprise? Teenage bullying due to sexual orientation is a prominent topic in the media today. How does Roderick’s story echo other tragedies you’ve read or heard about?
10. Rachel’s father offers words of advice after Lester is arrested: “Baby girl, God is in the blessing business. He’s not in the punishing business. . . . Just know that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear” (p. 197). Do you agree? Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt you were being tested beyond what you could bear?
11. What did you think of Rachel’s decision to keep Mary’s son, despite him being a constant reminder of Lester’s indiscretion? Would you have made the same decision? Similarly, how would Rachel’s decision have been different if it had turned out that Lester was, in fact, the boy’s father?
12. How did your opinion of Mary change as you read the book? By the end of the novel, did you find yourself sympathizing with her situation? Or did you think she got what she deserved?
13. How does the role of forgiveness impact both the characters and the events in the novel? Is Rachel truly able to forgive Lester for his indiscretion by the end of the book? Do you think Jonathan will ever be able to forgive himself for what happened to Roderick?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Let the Church Say Amen, the first in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s Say Amen series, is currently being produced as a feature film. If you were in charge of casting, who would you cast as Rachel? Lester? Mary?
2. Roderick’s suicide, like many other teenage suicides committed by those who do not feel accepted by their families and/or communities, came as a saddening shock to those who loved him. If you’d like to help troubled teens in your area, consider taking part in one of the following campaigns:
• The It Gets Better Project, a worldwide movement of hope for LGBT youth: www.itgetsbetter.org
• To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement dedicated to helping those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide: www.twloha.com
• The Trevor Project, a campaign for a future where all youth have the same opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity: www.thetrevorproject.org
3. Say Amen, Again is the third book in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s series about Rachel and her family. If your book group hasn’t yet read the first two books in the series, consider Let the Church Say Amen or Everybody Say Amen for your next discussion.
4. You can learn more about ReShonda Tate Billingsley and her books on her official website (www.reshondatatebillingsley.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/ReShondaT).
A Conversation with ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Say Amen, Again is the third book in the Say Amen series. Which character do you think has grown the most since Let the Church Say Amen, the first in the series?
It would definitely have to be Rachel. I mean, did you ever imagine the Rachel we first met would be capable of adopting the child of her husband’s mistress?
Do you have any plans to write another book about Rachel and her family? What’s next for the Jacksons and the Adamses?
Rachel is one of those characters that won’t let me tuck her away. I never planned to write the first sequel, and she demanded that her story continue. Next up, she’ll meet up with Jasmine Larson Bush, the main character from author Victoria Christopher Murray’s Jasmine series. The two women are so much alike and so different and they’ll clash as both try to get their husbands elected to a prestigious position in a national organization. That book is called Saints and Sinners and comes out in 2012.
Before you began writing Say Amen, Again, did you know how it would end? Was Rachel always going to accept Mary’s baby into her life?
Oh, I never know how my books are going to end. That’s why it’s so hard for me to write an outline. My characters take over and they tell me the direction in which they want to go. So, I had no idea if the baby was going to even be Lester’s, let alone Rachel’s plan for the child.
Roderick’s suicide is undoubtedly one of the novel’s saddest moments. Why did you feel this was important to include?
I just wanted to show the tragic side of what can happen when our young people feel like they can’t talk to anyone. I don’t even know whether Roderick was gay, but the simple fact that he was conflicted was cause for concern. Yet, for various reasons, he had nowhere to turn.
When it comes to writing, what would you say is your greatest challenge?
Whew, I guess it would be I can’t write fast enough, and I write pretty fast! There are so many unchartered territories I’d like to venture into, but my plate is pretty full. Some people would think that time might be a challenge, but I believe that you find time for your passion and writing is my passion, so time has never been an issue for me.
In its starred review of Let the Church Say Amen, Library Journal raves about your ability to infuse your text with “just the right dose of humor to balance the novel’s serious events.” Do you find it difficult to strike this balance in your writing?
I don’t. At all. People are always telling me how funny I am and I just don’t see it. I guess it’s because I’m not trying to be. It’s just a part of me; so naturally it’s reflected in my writing.
When you write, do you craft your novels with a mostly Christian audience in mind? Or do you aim to reach a wider readership?
Well, I’m a Christian who writes fiction, but that’s about the scope of my target. I mean, of course I want Christians to enjoy my book, but I also want nonbelievers, people of other religions, anyone and everyone to be able to pick up my book and enjoy it. And more than anything, get a message out of the book. In fact, my greatest joy in writing comes from those who found themselves growing closer to God, stronger in their faith, because of something I wrote. But at the end of the day, my message is for the masses. I believe that’s what God has called me to do.
What most inspires you to write?
A pure, simple passion for telling stories.
If one of your readers wanted to write a novel of his or her own, what would be the first piece of advice you would offer?
Don’t just talk about writing, write. And every minute you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do could be spent doing it. So many people don’t get their book finished because they let that get in the way. Something will always get in the way. The road to success is paved with tempting parking spaces. Don’t take a detour in trying to reach your dream. And finally, set small, attainable goals. I started with three pages a day, five days a week. No matter what, I committed to that. Well, before I knew it, three turned to thirty and I was able to finish my book.
What would you say is the most important thing for your readers to take away from Say Amen, Again?
The power of forgiveness and moving past your anger. I also hope that the book helps people reflect on how judging someone is something that should be left up to God.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A very good book i encourage others to read it too
This book is absolutley amazing! I am always reading with this book and teenageres like me will love it! I am 14 i hate reading every thing except magazinzes and this series!
In Nothing But Drama (Book 1) Camille, Angel, Alexis and Jasmine became friends after joining the Good Girlz Club, and, although the reader learned a bit about each character, the main focus was on Camille. In Book 2 of ReShonda Tate Billingsley's Christian teen series the author introduced another Good Girlz Club member, Trina, who had a habit that got her and other members into trouble, and she touched on Alexis' issues with her parents, however, the main focus was Jasmine's story: Jasmine's brothers got on her every nerve, she was responsible for most of the cleaning and cooking at home, and she always seemed to end up in situations that reminded her of the fact that she didn't have money. Jasmine hated her life, and she believed that if she could just find the father she'd never known a relationship with him would make everything much better. Jasmine's mother, Jetola, refused to even speak of this man and became highly upset when her daughter brought him up, so there was no way Jasmine was going to convince her to reveal her father's whereabouts. Still, a determined Jasmine found her father, but she also found out that all that glitters isn't gold. That was cool in the end, though, because a lesson learned brought Jasmine closer to her mother. With only 166 pages this book was a quick read. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
So far the book is excellent.I love how she created the characters.However my favorite is Jasmine.
Enjoyed this just as much as the first and couldn't put it down until I was finished.