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Table of Contents
About The Book
The eighth book in The Good Girlz series from national bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley.
Seniors rule the school . . .
High school is coming to a close for the Good Girlz, and it couldn’t end on a better note: Camille, Angel, Alexis, and Jasmine are ecstatic to discover they’ve all been accepted to the same Texas university! Prairie View A&M, watch out: there will be four inseparable friends on campus come September, and between the cute guys, the Greek parties—oh, and the cool classes, of course—their good times will just be beginning.
But college has all new rules.
Just when things should be falling into place, there is more uncertainty—and more drama—than ever: Alexis passed up an Ivy League scholarship to go to PV, but a summer scandal may bar her from college entirely. Jasmine’s struggling to nail the final exams on which her future depends . . . and Angel stuns everyone with her plans to move to Dallas with her new boyfriend. They may have their diplomas, but these girls have a lot to learn about relying on their faith—and each other—when facing life’s tough decisions.
College life was off the chain! At least that’s the way it seemed as I looked out across the courtyard of Prairie View A&M University. Everywhere people were laughing, talking and just hanging out. Most of the students were watching the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity do an impromptu step show.
Our recruiting guide said it was called “Hump Day on the Hill,” a time when all the students come together, dance, listen to music and meet and greet. They even had a deejay showcasing his newest music.
“It’s the midpoint of the week, and we like to celebrate to help us get through the week,” our tour guide, a petite, pretty, brown-skinned girl named Lauren, said. She was leading us and about twenty other students. “We do it every week except finals and dead week.” The girl turned to smile at Miss Rachel, the sponsor of the Good Girlz, our community service organization. Miss Rachel had arranged this campus tour after I, and the other four Good Girlz—Camille, Alexis, Jasmine and Tyeesha—expressed interest in visiting again. We’d come here two months ago, and I think all of us were sold on coming to this college after we graduated in a few months. “And don’t worry, it’s not all fun and games,” Lauren added, “we wrap up Hump Day on the Hill with a prayer or a spiritual song.”
Miss Rachel nodded in approval. Personally, the prayer was all good, but I just needed to see all the groups of people mingling to know I’d made the right decision—Prairie View was my first choice. We had all applied after our first visit, when we’d come to the campus for a Girls, Inc. conference. So far, none of us had received acceptance letters, but I knew after today, we all wanted to go here now more than ever.
“Girls, you all enjoy the show. I’m going to run inside to the rest room,” Miss Rachel told us.
We waved as she walked off, then quickly turned our attention back to a fraternity everybody called the Que Dogs, who were stepping in gold boots and had dog collars around their necks. Their show was pretty entertaining. Then, out of nowhere, we heard this deep male voice: “So, you ladies enjoying the tour?”
I looked up to see the cutest guy I’d ever seen in my life. He was about six feet tall, sandpaper-brown with deep dimples and a head full of curly hair.
“We are,” Camille said, immediately coming forward to shake his hand. Camille Harris was the boy-crazy one of the group. She batted her eyelashes at him and my heart sank. That meant she was about to get her flirt on, so he’d be off limits to me. Not that he’d want me anyway. I was the shy one out of the five of us. I’d been told I was cute—this one guy even said I looked like a younger version of Shakira—but I also had one giant drawback: I had a two-year-old daughter. These college boys wouldn’t want anyone with kids. Shoot, I couldn’t buy a date at my high school because nobody wanted a girlfriend who had a kid by someone else.
“That’s nice,” the guy said to Camille. “I’m Rico. My friends call me R-Train.” As he adjusted his backpack on his shoulder, his smile made my stomach flutter. He had on a PV T-shirt and some tan cargo shorts.
“And I’m Camille.” She pointed at us. “These are my friends, Jasmine, Alexis, Tyeesha and Angel.”
We all waved, except for Jasmine. She was being her usual grouchy self. She’d been complaining about how hot it was, even though I could tell she was enjoying the campus tour. For her, going to college would be a huge step up for her whole family.
Rico reached out as if he was trying to take Camille’s hand. She smiled coyly as she eased toward him.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you . . .” Rico stepped around Camille and took my hand. “. . . Angel. Is that what she said it was?”
My eyes widened in shock. Jasmine and Tyeesha busted out laughing. Embarrassment covered Camille’s face, but Rico didn’t seem to notice.
“So, where are you ladies from?” he asked, still holding on to my hand.
“Umm, we’re from . . . ah, we’re from Madison H—”
Alexis immediately cut me off. “We’re from Houston. Just checking out the school.” She shot me the evil eye. I’d forgotten our pact that we weren’t going to tell anyone that we were still in high school during our tour. I didn’t see what the big deal was, though. Everyone on the tour was from a high school.
“Houston?” He nodded. “So, you’re right down the road?”
I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth. I couldn’t do anything but nod back.
“So that means, if I wanted to see you again, I would only have a forty-five-minute drive.” He looked at me like we were the only two people standing in the courtyard.
“Yeah, um . . . w-we . . .” I couldn’t believe I was acting like I was a blubbering fool. He would think I was so lame.
Jasmine, who thankfully knew how shy I was, stepped to my aid.
“What makes you think she wants to see you again?” she said, prying his hand off mine. I was glad she was smiling so at least she wouldn’t scare him off. At six feet tall, with an athletic build, it wasn’t anything for Jasmine to act bold.
“I don’t know if she does want to see me. But I’d really like to see her again,” he said, still staring at me.
I was completely speechless. And for once, so was Jasmine. I think she was waiting on him to run some type of game, but when he didn’t—he just stood there looking at me with those piercing gray eyes—she didn’t know what to say.
“Seriously, I think you’re beautiful,” he told me. “And no, I don’t know anything about you. You might be a serial killer.” He broke out in a big smile. “But I sure would like to get to know you.”
“So you know that you’d like to know her even though you don’t even know her?” Alexis asked, her hands planted firmly on her hips.
We all turned to stare at her. For all of her money (Alexis came from a filthy-rich family) she couldn’t buy a decent line. My girl was corny as all get out.
“Actually, I do,” Rico said, not looking the least bit confused.
“Well, handle your business then,” Tyeesha said, stepping up and playfully pushing his shoulder. Although she was the newest one to the Good Girlz, she had fit right in. Her joking kind of broke the tense mood and we all laughed.
“Why don’t you let me give you a private tour?” Rico said, gently taking my hand again and pulling me toward him.
Jasmine snatched me back. “I don’t think so, Brother Man. You could be the serial killer.”
He laughed, nodding in agreement. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking.” He dug in his backpack and pulled out a piece of paper. “Let me give you my cell phone number. I live here on campus, but it’s nothing for me to swoop down to Houston and pick you up. So give me a call. Maybe we can get to know each other over the phone—first. Then you can let me give you that private tour.”
“Unh-unh,” Jasmine said, wagging her finger. “Ain’t gon’ be no private tours. We don’t know you like that.”
“That’s why I’m giving her the number.” He scribbled his digits on a piece of paper, then handed it to me. “So she can get to know me like that.” He winked. “Angel, I await your call.” He blew me a kiss before walking off.
I tried to keep it together so I didn’t appear to be a total loser, but I wanted to jump up and down and do a happy dance. I wasn’t even in college yet, and already my life was looking up.
“Girl, you better call him,” Camille said, genuinely excited for me.
I had thought she was going to be bothered since he’d dissed her. “You don’t want him?” I asked. Yes, he was cute, but the one thing the Good Girlz didn’t do was talk to someone else’s man.
Camille waved me off. “Please, you know how I do. I was just flirting. Besides,” she said, playfully wiggling her neck, “even if I did want him, he obviously only has eyes for you.”
“Who was that?” We all looked up to see Miss Rachel peering in the direction where Rico had walked off.
“That’s about to be Angel’s new man,” Alexis sang. “They call him R-Train.”
“Like the subway?” Miss Rachel asked, shaking her head. She didn’t wait for anyone to answer as she wagged her finger our way. “What have I told you girls? You don’t need to be worried about any boys, men, or anything else.”
“Oh, Miss Rachel, it’s human nature,” Camille joked.
“I got your human nature,” she replied. “I told you where having boys on the brain will land you.” Yet Miss Rachel had admitted before that, like Camille, she used to be boy crazy as a teen and she’d had more than her share of trouble behind it. She’d started the Good Girlz after marrying a preacher and deciding she wanted to keep teenage girls from making the same mistakes that she’d made.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Camille said, albeit respectfully. We’d all heard this speech before.
“Angel got his number and everything,” Tyeesha added cheerfully.
“How old is that boy?” Miss Rachel said, frowning.
We all shrugged.
“I don’t know,” I finally said. “It’s not like we got into a whole bunch of details.”
“Well, he looks old to me,” Miss Rachel said.
“I’m not even thinking about him,” I said, wanting to get the spotlight off me. I had every intention of calling Rico. I just didn’t want Miss Rachel all up in my business. It wasn’t every day that someone as cute as Rico showed an interest in me. And I was at the point in my life when I was ready to show him some interest right back. I mean, I was graduating in two months, and I didn’t even have anyone I could take to the senior party, the biggest event of our senior year. I was hoping this guy named Lucas would ask, but so far he hadn’t.
“Good,” Miss Rachel said. “I didn’t bring you all up here to this school to pick up guys.” She looked over at our tour guide Lauren, who was saying good-bye to everyone. “Well, girls, the tour has wrapped up. Dr. Breyer would like to meet with you ladies in her office.”
That announcement surprised all of us. We made our way back across the campus to the vice president’s office. I wondered why we were going to see her, but Miss Rachel was moving so fast I couldn’t really ask any questions.
“She doesn’t have anything to do with admissions,” Miss Rachel said, seeming to read my mind, “but her husband and my husband play golf together. So she wanted to meet you personally.”
We entered an old brick building and stepped inside a nicely decorated office. A large photo of a panther hung on the wall, surrounded by photos of happy-looking college kids. The furniture looked worn, but the whole office seemed very student-friendly.
The secretary ushered us into a back office and we all took a seat around Dr. Breyer’s large oak desk. She greeted us with an enthusiastic smile. A tall, pretty woman with a warm and friendly face, she reminded me more of a grandmother than a vice president of a college.
After some brief introductions, she said, “Well, girls, I don’t have much time, because I have to get to a meeting, but I am so proud of what Rachel has done with the program and I wanted to personally give you these.”
We all looked confused as she handed each of us an envelope. We turned them over, not sure what to do. Miss Rachel stood in the background, grinning like crazy.
I was the first one who tore into mine, and I instantly saw the word “Congratulations.” “Oh, wow,” I said. Camille, Jasmine, Alexis and Tyeesha all ripped theirs open and they, too, squealed in delight.
“Yes, congratulations are in order,” Dr. Breyer said. “Prairie View A&M University would be honored if you all would attend.”
“We’ve been accepted?” Tyeesha asked.
“Like there was ever any doubt,” Alexis put in.
“Maybe not for you,” Jasmine replied. Alexis was a brainiac, but the rest of us struggled from time to time.
“Of course, acceptance is contingent upon all of you actually graduating,” Dr. Breyer said. “But judging from the look of your records, that should be no problem.”
Jasmine looked like she wanted to ask a question but decided against it.
“Thank you,” we all said together.
“No, thank you, ladies. Our president, Dr. Wrightman, wants to meet each of you in person, and I look forward to a personal relationship with each one of you as well,” Dr. Breyer said.
“Lorraine, thank you so much,” Miss Rachel said. “You don’t know how much this means to myself and the girls.”
“Yes, it means a lot,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was going to college. My mom had already said she would keep my daughter, Angelica, because she wanted me to further my education. But the reality that I might really get to go hadn’t set in until just now.
“Well, we need to get back down the road.” Miss Rachel stood up. “I want to get the girls home before it gets too dark.”
We all shook Dr. Breyer’s hand, and practically floated out of the room. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mom. I would be the first person in my family to go to college, so I was definitely excited. Plus, I had met a cute college boy who gave me his number. Well, things couldn’t get any better than that.
© 2010 ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Reading Group Guide
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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.
- Publisher: Gallery Books (November 23, 2010)
- Length: 256 pages
- ISBN13: 9781439156872
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