The third book in an exciting and inspiring new series from national bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Only one girl will be chosen....
In the year since Camille, Alexis, Jasmine, and Angel joined Rachel Jackson's church youth group, the four best friends have bonded over boys, pitched in on community projects, and shared their deepest secrets. There's nothing they don't know about each other or is there? When a special guest arrives at Rachel's group and announces auditions for a television talk show, the girls will come to know a side of each other they never knew existed. And they may not like what they see.
Will the four friends become enemies?
The race to find the perfect host for KRCP's Teen Talks is heating up the competition is fierce, and so are the lies the girlfriends tell about each other in order to win the coveted spot. But more painful than any lies they can concoct is the cold, hard truth: none of them will reach their ultimate dreams if cutting each other down is how they choose to get ahead. Is winning a place in the spotlight worth losing their friendship?
Includes a reader's group guide!
Be sure to read the previous novels in ReShonda Tate Billingsley's fresh and fun series that looks at the Ten Commandments in a whole new light: Nothing But Drama and Blessings in Disguise now available!
ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a general assignment reporter for KRIV-TV, the Fox affiliate in Houston, Texas. She is the author of the nonfiction book Help! I've Turned Into My Mother! and three previous adult novels: My Brother's Keeper, for which she received the prestigious Gold Pen Award for Best New Author from the Black Writer's Alliance and the Nova Lee Nation Award from the Greater Dallas Writing Association; the national bestseller Let the Church Say Amen, chosen for Library Journal's Best of 2004 list for Christian fiction; and I Know I've Been Changed, a Main Selection of the Black Expressions Book Club. Her previous Christian teen novels are Nothing But Drama and Blessings in Disguise, both available from Pocket Books. She is also a contributor to the story anthology Have a Little Faith. Visit her website at www.reshondatatebillingsley.com.
About the Author
ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 national 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 and 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
With Friends Like These
By ReShonda Tate Billingsley
All right reserved.
"My name is Tameka Adams, and I don't want to be here." Tameka made the announcement like she was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She twirled her fingers through her long ponytail as she sighed in frustration.
Personally, I wanted to tell her to beat it, then. I know one thing, if she was coming to join our group, homegirl was gon' have to lose the attitude. I mean, I know she's Rachel's niece by marriage and all. But she and her funky attitude needed to go.
Rachel is our group leader, the founder of the Good Girlz community service group. Don't let the name fool you, though. We all are far from good. Rachel started the group here in Houston as part of some youth outreach program at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, where her husband was pastor. Her old snooty church members didn't want her to start the group. But even though she's First Lady, Rachel marches to a beat of her own. She told those old biddies where they could go. Now here we are, a year after we started. And even those people who didn't want us at first are now feeling us.
I ain't gon' even lie, though, I came here kickin' and screamin'. But since my choice was either the Good Girlz or jail, well, I guess you could see why I'm here. The bad part was, I got in a whole bunch oftrouble over my stupid, no-good, stank, dirty dog ex-boyfriend, Keith. Long story short, the fool went to jail for a carjacking, broke out, and had me hiding him in my grandma's house. Then when the police came, he took off through a back window, and I was the one who got arrested for harboring a fugitive. Can youbelieve that? Me, a straight-A (well, sometimes B and C) person, got arrested. I was only fifteen, so I didn't have to go to regular jail. I spent a week in a juvenile facility while they had a manhunt for Keith. And do you know where they found that dog? At his baby mama's house. That was a bit of a problem because I didn't know he had a baby. And I dang sure didn't know he had a baby mama.
Anyway, he got sent back to jail. They eventually found out he didn't do it -- it was his stepbrother -- so he got out. And of course he tried to come running back to me, but I wasn't hearing it. (Okay, maybe I did take him back one time, but he messed up again, cheating on me with his crazy baby mama, so I kicked him to the curb and I hadn't talked to him since.)
"Hello. Earth to Camille."
I looked up to see Angel waving her hand in my face.
I snapped back to the meeting, not even realizing my mind had wandered off.
"Glad you could rejoin us," Rachel said with a smile.
I shot her an apologetic look as she continued talking.
"Now that I've explained to our new girls all of the benefits of our wonderful group, we want everyone to introduce themselves," Rachel said. "Starting with you, Jasmine."
"Aww, Miss Rachel, it's not like Tameka doesn't know us. She's been here before," Jasmine protested. Tameka had come to our first meeting, but at the time she chose not to participate. I don't know what had brought her back this time.
"It's not like she even wants to know us," I mumbled.
Rachel must've heard me because she cut her eyes at me. "Yes, but Julia doesn't know everyone," Rachel said, referring to the brown-skinned girl sitting in the front row. "And why must you give me a hard time on everything?" Rachel asked Jasmine.
"Fine," Jasmine said. "I'm Jasmine Jones." She turned to Rachel with a huge smile. "How's that?"
Me, Alexis, and Angel cracked up laughing. Jasmine was our girl. Even though she was pretty, she used to have a complex about being so tall and athletic-looking. She'd been like Tameka when we first started, a mean tomboy who didn't want to be here. But we'd broken down her guard, and now she was totally cool. We are all tight. The only other person who'd been in our group was Alexis's friend, Trina. She joined for a little while, but got arrested for shoplifting and sent to jail. (That's another long story.) So I think none of us were too keen on anyone else joining our little circle, especially somebody with a funky attitude like Tameka.
Rachel rolled her eyes. "You all are working my nerves."
Alexis raised her hand. "I'll go, Miss Rachel. My name is Alexis Lansing," she said, standing up, tossing her long golden brown hair over her shoulder. You couldn't tell Alexis she wasn't Beyoncé 's twin. Well, you could but she wouldn't believe you. "I'm a junior at St. Pius Catholic School."
"But she definitely ain't no Catholic schoolgirl," I playfully muttered, referring to her part in the little shoplifting spree she and Trina went on a few months ago. Angel highfived me as Alexis, who was standing in front of me, shot me the finger behind her back.
"Bigmouth over here is Camille Harris," Alexis continued, pointing at me. "And that is Angel Lopez," she said, pointing at Angel. "All of them are juniors at Madison High School."
Julia gave us a smile. She was a weird-looking girl with long black hair that looked like it was in need of a good washing. She wore a long black skirt and long-sleeved black T-shirt, even though it was the middle of August.
"Now, Julia, do you want to tell us a little about yourself?" Rachel asked.
Julia shrugged. "Not much to tell. I go to Lamar High School, and I had to come here because my friends do drugs. I don't, but my parents think I do because I hang around them. They think if I come here, it'll cure me."
We all stared at her. That girl was a druggie if I ever seen one.
"Well, even though you don't think you need to be here, maybe you'll get something out of our group," Rachel said.
Julia didn't look convinced. But Rachel didn't seem to notice as she began talking about all the community service projects we would be working on, including the one we had scheduled for Saturday.
By the time we wrapped up, I think all of us were worn out. Alexis, Angel, and Jasmine immediately gravitated toward one another, so I decided to personally welcome Julia and Tameka, who were sitting off by themselves.
"Hey, are you guys going to be at the community service project Saturday?" I asked.
Tameka folded her arms and stuck out her bottom lip. "I guess, since it seems like we don't really have a choice."
Julia rolled her eyes. "Not if I can help it."
The three of us stood there, looking around awkwardly. I noticed Angel, Alexis, and Jasmine cracking up about something. Finally, when I saw neither Julia or Tameka were in a talkative mood, I shrugged. "Oh, well. See you guys later." I went back to my friends, telling myself I'd tried. I'd just stick to the original Good Girlz, the ones I knew were my true friends. I guess we just had no room for outsiders.
Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Excerpted from With Friends Like These 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.
Activities to Enhance Your Book Club
Lend a helping hand like the Good Girlz! Find community service projects in your area by logging on to sites such as www. dosomething.org and www.handsonnetwork.org.
If you're the host, read quotes from With Friends Like These and see if your friends can guess which characters said them.
Try hosting your own version of Teen Talks. Your fellow book club members can come on the show as one of the characters from the book.
Questions for Discussions
1. When the original Good Girlz Camille, Angel, Jasmine, and Alexis meet their newest member, Tameka Adams, they are turned off by her negative attitude. Camille says, "I'd just stick to the original Good Girlz, the ones I knew were my true friends. I guess we just had no room for outsiders" (page 5). Why do you think the girls don't like Tameka? Does it have anything to do with the fact that she's their group leader's niece? What is the difference between a close-knit group of friends and a "clique"? What would you consider the Good Girlz?
2. Do you think it's a good decision for Angel not to try out for Teen Talks because she's now a mom? What does this say about her priorities and life goals? Did she have other options she didn't explore?
3. Competition and lying are two of the major themes in With Friends Like These. What is the difference between competition over boys and competition at the television station? When, if ever, is a lie acceptable?
4. Do you think Jasmine has the right to be angry with Alexis for dating Jaquan? Why or why not? Is keeping Jasmine in the dark the same thing as lying to her?
5. Camille and Walter lieto their parents in order to date each other. Is this really necessary? What does this say about their relationship? Are they dating each other simply to rebel, or are they rebelling because they truly care about each other?
6. Why do you think Tameka uses underhanded tactics, such as giving the girls bad advice and stealing Jasmine's research paper? If she had enough confidence in herself would she still cheat? How do the other girls react?
7. When Alexis and Camille are chosen as the finalists, Camille takes Walter up on his offer to help her get the job. Do you consider this cheating? Do you think she would have been more proud of herself knowing she got the job all on her own? How do the other girls react once they find out?
8. At one point in the competition, Rachel says, "God is at the center of everything we do.... We're losing the glue that holds everything together" (page 85). What is Rachel trying to teach the girls about friendship and competition? What are they losing sight of?
9. When the girls believe Alexis had an overdose, they rush to the hospital to be at her side. What does this say about their underlying values and priorities?10. How does the cancellation of the talk show put things in perspective for Camille? What does she learn about herself and the nature of competition?
ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the author of the nonfiction book Help! I've Turned into My Mother and six previous adult novels: My Brother's Keeper, for which she received the prestigious Gold Pen Award for Best New Author from the Black Writer's Alliance and the Nova Lee Nation Award from the Greater Dallas Writing Association; the national bestseller and #1 Essence bestseller Let the Church Say Amen, chosen for Library Journal's Best of 2004 list for Christian fiction; I Know I've Been Changed, a main Selection of the Black Expressions Book Club and #1 Dallas Morning News bestseller; the sequel to Let the Church Say Amen and a USA Today 2007 ?Summer Sizzler? and Essence bestseller Everybody Say Amen; The Pastor's Wife, also an Essence bestseller and Can I Get A Witness. Her previous teen novels are Friends 'Til The End, Fair-Weather Friends, Getting Even, With Friends Like These, Blessings in Disguise, and Nothing But Drama, all available from Pocket Books. She is also a contributor to the anthology Have a Little Faith. She welcomes readers to her websites at www.reshondatatebillingsley.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series. I began with the last book 1st (drama queens) and have been hooked ever since. The friendship shared is an excellent representation of the highs, lows, and love of true friendship!!!!!!
This book is not just for teens. I is also for adults. I thought the book was great just like the other books in the series. My teen daughter has all of her friends reading these books. You don't really have to start with the first one because she brings you up to date with each one, but I recomend that you read them all. ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a great writer. I have read many her books and I have not been disapointed.
Im not always the person to love reading books. But when I read this book I couldn't get enough! I was dieing to get another one of Reshondas books. Ive read 2 others by her and still want more!! This book is incredably awesome! there's alot of DRAMA in it but thats what its mostly about!
I've read all three in this series and enjoyed each and everyone...looking forward to reading more...good quick read.
i really enjoyed this book it has real life situations in it and thats what i like to read its really good for teen girls..... i cant wait to read the rest of the books in this series