Jenna Samuels and her guardian angel brother battle heavenly head-honchos and earthbound bullies in this hilarious, Texas-set follow up to The Sweet Dead Life.
It's been almost a year since Jenna Samuel’s stoner brother, Casey, bit the dust and returned as her guardian angel. A year since Casey and his “angel boss,” Amber Velasco, saved Jenna’s life and helped her foil the bad guys—more or less. A year in which Jenna has solved the true mystery of the universe: how to get one Ryan Sloboda to ask her out.
Jenna’s feeling mighty cheery about life and love. But Casey, whose doomed relationship with Lanie Phelps (who has no idea her boyfriend is, well, dead) isn’t doing much to distract him, has his own big question: Why is he still hanging around?
Bo Shivers, a heavenly head honcho Jenna and Casey didn't even know existed, might have the answer. Bo knows something big is coming. Something that might just change everything for Jenna Samuels, who once again finds herself up to her non-winged shoulders in heavenly secrets of global proportions—just as she’s finally found the perfect Homecoming Dance dress.
About the Author
Joy Preble lives in Houston with her family, including a sweet but slightly unhinged basset mix. She teaches and lectures widely on writing and literacy, and is the author of the Dreaming Anastasia series and Finding Paris, which SLJ called “An intricate guessing game.” The A-Word is the sequel to The Sweet Dead Life, which Kirkus hailed with “Hallelujah!” Like its narrator Jenna, Joy likes cowboy boots, breakfast tacos, and crazy unexpected stuff. Visit her online at joypreble.com or follow her on Twitter @joypreble.
Read an Excerpt
It took everything I had to convince my best friend Maggie to come to the football game. Football is not Maggie’s thing. It’s not mine either, even though my brother, Casey, played for years until that became impossible due to A-word (I still didn’t like saying the word angel) circumstances out of everyone’s control. But more on that later. I was going because I wanted to see Ryan Sloboda play. More accurately, I wanted Ryan Sloboda to see me seeing him play. Maybe that would jump-start something and he’d get off his butt and ask me out, which he’d been working up to for months. Ryan is still pretty backward in the socializing area.
Plus it was the day before my fifteenth birthday and I was feeling optimistic. Maggie’s neutral about birthdays, but me—I like to do them up big. Cake-and-pony big. Well, maybe not an actual pony. But celebrate. Be happy. Tomorrow your brother might bite the dust driving you to the hospital because your mom’s boss had been poisoning you (more on that later, too) and come back as your guardian angel.
Trust me. It could happen.
So eat the damn birthday cake if someone makes you one, which hopefully someone will.
But as I couldn’t exactly tell Maggie that my brother was a heavenly being now, I asked, “What about the boots? Too much?” meaning my red cowboy boots I had just shoved on my feet. I waited while she furrowed her eyebrows and thought it over, dramatic-like in that way she preferred.
We were sitting on the floor in my room, going over Appropriate Football Outfit Choices Guaranteed to Get Ryan Sloboda to Take Notice. Maggie is obsessed with finding me the perfect signature style even though I have informed her that I am more eclectic when it comes to fashion.
“Eclectic” is one of my new favorite words. It means derived from a variety of sources, which means it is perfectly fine to wear my red cowboy boots with a denim skirt instead of jeans, and also okay for Maggie to help me cover it with black lace, and top it with my plaid button-down, sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
“I think you’re pushing it,” Maggie said in her absolutely certain tone. Maggie is Absolutely Certain about most things.
I reminded her about Ryan Sloboda’s social awkwardness. Plus, even with a button or two undone, there is not much to see. But like I say, I am an optimistic girl.
“Skirt’s good, though, right?”
“I guess,” Mags said, kind of quiet. She poked at the black lace, tugging it here and there. “Long as you don’t go skydiving in it or something.”
Maggie rarely expresses shock at what the universe spits out. That’s just how Mags is—an embrace-the-world-bythe-horns girl and proud of it. Yesterday she justified failing her Spanish II quiz by observing that the universe probably wanted her to be more sympathetic to the plight of undocumented workers. (“Now I know how hard it is to be in a strange land and master a new language.”) My opinion was that she had forgotten to study, which was also the case. But the stuff that’s been happening in my universe is a tad harder to digest.
The truth is this: my brother and his angel boss, EMT/bartender Amber Velasco, had spread their wings over the atrium at the Galleria Shopping Mall to save me from the evil Dr. Renfroe. When you think of comic-book bad guys, true villains, you think of them as handsome in a sinister way, just maybe not so hairy. On the other hand, Dr. Renfroe was comic-book classic in that he was charming and very good at lying. He poisoned me and experimented with memory drugs on my parents and a bunch of innocent oldsters at Oak View Convalescent. But Casey swooped in before I splattered in a public demise at the hands of Dr. Renfroe and his partners in crime. Amber snagged the Bad Guy. A happy . . . ending?
Here’s the problem: I can’t tell Mags, my best friend in the entire crazy universe, the truth. Instead I have to stick to the far-less-believable story that we attempted a crazy skydiving stunt right before Christmas. And that in the process, we accidentally helped bring down a crime ring that wanted to weaponize Dr. Renfroe’s memory drugs.
Luckily, people’s memories are sketchy enough on their own. That’s what Casey says, and he should know, given his weed-addled brain. But I agree, what with us all watching YouTube videos and downloading Internet porn (like my brother used to do before he ended up on Heaven’s payroll, not that he gets paid). Besides, being famous for weird stuff only lasts so long at school. Take a deep breath and some idiot is sending a picture of herself in her underwear, and her boyfriend is forwarding it to the entire student body.
Plus Casey still looks like Casey. Not that I ever thought much about what angels would look like. But I guess if I did give it pause, I would picture them in white sparkly outfits or maybe invisible or wearing halos. Not sleeping in the room down the hall from me, passed out in a Mountain Dew T-shirt next to half-eaten Jack in the Box tacos.
I hate that I have no alternative but to lie to Maggie. Maybe someday I can tell her the truth—that Casey isn’t quite Casey anymore. I’d tell her all the rest of it, too.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the angelic world, it’s that there are rules. Flying under the radar is a big one. Meaning: Do. Not. Tell.
All I could do was ramble about how many buttons I should leave undone, and did Maggie think we should paint our faces red and blue in the Spring Creek colors? Which is more school spirit than I normally work myself up to, and definitely more than I had last year when I was still at Ima Hogg Junior High.
I couldn’t talk about how people had basically forgotten the whole Galleria thing because there had never been a trial. Someone had paid Dr. Renfroe’s bail, and he’d disappeared without a trace. I couldn’t talk about Manny, the owner of Manny’s Real Tex Mex in Houston—the shady criminal who was blackmailing Dr. Renfroe—because Manny had also conveniently vanished. I couldn’t talk about how Casey was effectively grounded from using his wings in public or that the guys who caused the whole mess weren’t ever going to be dragged to justice.
It was easier to think about my boots. Which, by the way, I loved. They’d been a gift from Amber Velasco after my old Ariats had been destroyed, since that was how Renfroe had been slipping the poison into my system.
“Ryan is going to pee his pants,” Maggie said, perking up once we had declared my outfit and me a finished product.
“What’s that about Ryan?” asked my brother.
There he was, in my doorway. Now that he was an A-word (I definitely never said angel around Maggie), my brother was pretty light on his feet. Pretty nosy, too.
“Get out,” I told him.
“I’m taking you and Maggie to the game.” He lounged against the doorpost, looking perfectly put together in that way he had now. My brother’s (mostly) previous weed habit had made him a bit fleshy. Not that it mattered then. Back before this whole mess started he was a mostly do-it-yourself operation in the romance department.
Now that he was no longer exactly human, he sported tidy hair and a toned six-pack, among other things. I found this not only annoying but also supremely unfair.
“Maggie’s dad is taking us.”
“Not any more. Call your dad, Mags. Tell him he can stay home in the La-Z-Boy and watch Nat Geo. He doesn’t know jack about football.”
What Mags didn't know: Casey had his own reasons for taking us, aside from dogging my every step. Lanie Phelps was cheering tonight. Lanie Phelps: my brother’s ex two times over. First, she dumped him after he quit football and took up weed when our family life fell into the cesspool. They made up afterward. Of course they did. Because Lanie had no idea she was essentially dating a dead guy and that part of the reason she wanted to jump his bones was the A-word pheromones (my phrase) he put out unless he concentrated on pulling them back. Which he rarely did.
To Casey’s credit, their current breakup had been his doing. He didn’t talk about it, but I knew he thought he was protecting her from the inevitable.
I knew better. Breaking up wouldn’t be any protection at all. I just think he figured if Lanie hated him, it might ease things when Management finally plucked him to wherever they pluck angels once they’ve finished their earthly duties. Not that I was such an expert on these matters. Just that I shared a bathroom with him and he drove me to school every morning. Also, I’d been his sister my entire life. My brother had never been the deepest of thinkers. It wasn’t hard to follow the workings of his pea brain. Even now.
Plus everyone’s favorite EMT/bartender Amber Velasco had probably insisted he sever ties with Lanie. More than once I’d heard her refer to Casey’s relationship with his twotime ex as “imprudent and potentially dangerous.” Which was a sophisticated way of saying that he needed to stop hooking up with her in the back of our Merc.
Bosses acted boss-like, even if they were angels.
Which brings us to the game: matters were compounded a few weeks ago when Lanie started seeing Donny Sneed, the varsity quarterback who, while not the brightest star in the sky, was basically a nice guy. Not that this made my brother any less pissy about the whole matter.
Which I totally understood.
Plus, it was football. Casey missed playing like you’d miss an arm or a kidney.
Luckily (ha ha), our parents were currently too preoccupied trying to decide if they should stay married to notice that their son—who had helped save their lives, not that they exactly knew that—had changed in like a million ways. On the rare occasions they did question something, he made up excuses. Like the other day when Mom looked Casey up and down and back up again, poking a finger at his muscly arm, clearly flummoxed, and finally said, “Have you been taking supplements or something? You know that Creatine is dangerous, right?”
That he still toked up now and then did not enter the discussion. Yes, it turned out that angels could do drugs if they felt like it. Drugs seemed vastly inappropriate, especially considering Casey’s boss was still theoretically a member of the medical community. But who the hell knew what Amber Velasco thought? She was also a bartender. No one ever asked me. No one ever asked my opinion. No one dead, anyway.
“Can I ride in front?” Mags asked.
I tried to kick her. Casey blocked my leg with his.
“We’ll all sit up front,” he said. “We’re all skinny.”
“Goodie,” I told him.
“Skinny?” Mags said. “You’re sweet, Casey.”
“Just stating the facts, ma’am,” Casey said, which made Mags blush. I shot daggers in his eyes. He shot them back.
Maybe he figured being a dickhead would work on me, too. That I would be happy to see him go. That when the inevitable happened, Lanie Phelps wouldn’t be the only one who didn’t miss him. I decided to focus on encouraging Ryan Sloboda out of his social awkwardness. At least it was something that had a chance in hell of coming true.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What a great ride!!! Joy Preble has the voice of the teenager down pat. The teenagers in The A-Word talk the way real teenagers talk. Jenna is awesome. She's sweet, smart and funny. There's lots more to learn about Jenna's world. I'll be waiting for the next episode
Joy Preble has done it again! The A-Word is amazingly touching, funny, heartbreaking and realistic follow up to A Sweet Dead Life! Great writing, plot, mystery and intriguing characters! I need more books from this author asap! It's been a year now, Jenna is turning fifteen, wants to get her permit and has her eye on a cute boy. Things have been better, she's got her health, her mother is better and working, her dad is kind of in the picture, but at least that mystery was solved. And her brother, Casey, well... he's still an A-Word for sure. And as much as Jenna tries to live a normal life, having the A-Word hanging around all the time is really hard. Having no one to talk about it, having to lie and hide everything that has happened to everyone, her mother, father, best friend Maggie and boyfriend Ryan, is not easy. She's been through so much already, having a couple of guardian angels around should make life a bit easier. Now Casey is wondering why he's still hanging around. He's done his job, is there something more for him? The mystery continues when we learn more about Amber, the EMT that help pull Jenna and Casey out of their car wreck who, in the first book, we learn she's an A-Word too.. and now Amber's "angel boss", Bo Shivers, is in the picture. Bo is unpredictable, loud and acts like he knows it all. But he's so vague with everything that he says. Is it possible that he doesn't know as much as he says he does? Something big is about to happen! And all we can do is wait and see... I am really enjoying watching Jenna grow into a mature and responsible teen. She thinks things through, she is overly thoughtful and caring and is now more confident being her own person and dealing with what life has given her. It's impossible not to want to grab her up, feed her and hug her to death! Again, I cannot emphasize enough that the relationship between Jenna and her brother, Casey is spot on! The love/hate between them is endearing and realistic. Their one-liner banters had me laughing out loud. I adore them! It is the best written sibling relationship I have ever seen in YA. Fast-paced, well-written and out-of-this-world! I cannot wait until book 3 is announced!!!
3.5 Stars 'The A-Word' is the second installment in a young adult paranormal series that follows leading lady Jenna Samuels along with her brother, Casey, who is now an angel (a-word) as they try to go back to their normal lives after the catastrophe that happened last year - when Jenna almost died and Casey died to protect her and then came back as her guardian angel. Things are hard enough with high school, boys, friends, and the other things Jenna can't talk to anyone about except Casey - then enter the mysterious Bo Shivers. He's the boss of Casey's A-word boss, Amber. They didn't even know he existed until he appeared out of nowhere - a bit rough around the edges and with tidings of bad things to come. I found this to be a fun and solid second book in a series that combines humor and paranormal elements to form an original creation. I loved all the tidbits of information we get to learn about throughout the book - about the angels, their history, the stories about the trouble that's coming - all of it had me fascinated from the beginning. Jenna continues to be a realistic teenage character who does a pretty good job of balancing normal teen problems with the A-word stuff that's going on around her. We see a bit of character growth in both her character as well as Casey's, which I thought was refreshing. The plot wasn't anything totally original, but the author did a good job with the humor and descriptions to make it stand out in its own right. I loved getting to know the secondary characters better as well as more of the angel lore and prophecies. Overall, this is a well written YA paranormal sequel in a series that gives a different and fresh look at angels and the humans they protect. Recommended for fans of the genre as well as those who enjoy fantasy and paranormal fiction. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I loved last years The Sweet Dead Life, so I was so excited about getting the chance to read the follow up, The A- Word. Jennie has grown a lot since the events from the first book, and I still felt so bad for her. A lot has happened to Jenna after the events in The Sweet Dead Life. She’s learned that a crazed madman has been poisoning her family. Because of this her family is still not whole. Her mom is distant and her dad still lives (part time) in Austin. If that wasn’t enough, her brother, Casey, saved her life in a public place, and now management (aka-the head Angels) are punishing him. Jenna is happy that Casey is still around, and she hopes that he stays her guardian angel for a long time to come. Jenna is only 15 and has already dealt with so much. I felt so bad, especially because all of her problems are connected to things that she isn’t allowed to talk about with anyone. She always has to lie to her best friend, and she hates doing it. But Jenna is also growing up and is interested in boys, and I loved watching her innocent flirting with her crush, and eventual boyfriend, Ryan. Ryan was so sweet and perfect for Jenna. I really enjoyed watching Jenna grow into her own. In the first book, she was a very weak 13 year old, and not just because she was dying. She just didn't have a lot of confidence, her family issues were tearing her apart, and after her brother died she felt she would never be ok. But in this story, I loved how much more self-assured she was. She wasn't afraid to stick up for herself or speak her mind. She even surprised herself sometimes after she said something! I loved the writing in The A-Word. It flowed so nicely. Jenna was so funny, there were so many times that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I am so nervous for the next book in the series, but I am excited for how the series will play out.