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Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,440 Ratings  ·  280 Reviews
Donna Johnson's remarkable story of being raised under the biggest gospel tent in the world, by David Terrell, one of the most famous evangelical ministers of the 1960s and 70s. "Holy Ghost Girl" is a compassionate, humorous exploration of faith, betrayal, and coming of age on the sawdust trail.
She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of ten
ebook, 1 page
Published October 1st 2011 by Gotham Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Oct 31, 2011 Belinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Warning: This is a biased review. Not only do I know and really like Donna Johnson, I also worship with her in the pews of an Episcopalian church. I have had lengthy discussions with her over the years on the nature of resilient faith. I am unable to separate “Donna the author” from “Donna, whom I’ve known for more than 10 years.” You’ve been warned.

Everyone you know has a story that will make you laugh. And, they all have a story that will make you weep. On days when crisis and drama wash over
La Petite Américaine
I couldn't stop reading ... in the train-wreck sense. This book was a lot like The Glass Castle with an evangelical slant. Speaking of which, this book will make you hate evangelicals. Kinda makes me wanna join their clan and copy their style know, get up on the stage and say, "Jesus wants you to give me your money! Empty your pockets or face eternal hellfire for your sins! So sayeth the lord!!"

Damn good read, if you can take all of the depressing drama that comes with accounts of
Jun 22, 2012 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Donna, I don't know if you're going to the funeral, but I hear Daddy is gonna try to raise Randall from the dead. Call me."

That's the opening line of Holy Ghost Girl, as memorable a first line as any I have seen. Donna Johnson's memoir of a childhood spent on the "sawdust trail," the tent revival circuit, brilliantly fulfills the promise of its opener: it is fascinating, heartbreaking, and in the end, as enigmatic as the charismatic preacher who dominated Johnson's girlhood. Johnson tells it li
Justin Morgan
Dec 27, 2012 Justin Morgan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit that I had some personal investment in reading this book and my review will be equally personal. I grew up hearing stories of the Prophet/charlatan David Terrell: horror stories from my mom and hero stories from my grandma. My grandmother was one of the infamous Terrellites mentioned in the book, who would haul my mom to his tent revivals and eventually to his Texas headquarters. So many of the themes that permeate the book also permeate the lives of my family, secret lives, para ...more
May 13, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Donna Johnson's mother joined Brother David Terrell's tent revival circuit as an organist in the early 1960's and Donna and her brother Gary spent most of their childhood in this world, traveling the South and hearing the Gospel every night. This is a fascinating look at that world, especially as seen through the eyes of a five year old. When Carolyn Johnson becomes Brother Terrell's lover, as well, despite his having a wife and children, the picture becomes even more complicated. The endless se ...more
why in the hell is this getting such great reviews? it's not a bad book, but it is far from a great book. it is a memoir written by a woman whose family followed the revivalist faith healing preacher david terrell when she was a child. in fact, johnson's mother became terrell's "second wife". they were never actually married because terrell felt that divorcing his first wife would undermine his position as a holy man. terrell fathered three daughters with johnson's mother, & although the boo ...more
Jan 17, 2016 Sandy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Strange book of a life hard to relate to in some ways, but understandable in other ways. I didn't know how to feel once the book was over, but it's a four star because I had a hard time putting it down...

^This was my response immediately after finishing the book. The more time I have had to reflect on it, I found that I could relate in many ways to the feelings and confusions of the past. I was able to meet the author a few weeks after reading the book and was stunned by her grace and forgivenes
Lisa Napoli
May 19, 2011 Lisa Napoli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really great. I have a particular fascination with tent-revivalists, dating back to my life in the southeastern US long ago. Actually, before that. I can't imagine how hard it was for Donna to write about her young life with these people, including a mother who would be locked up as an abuser in modern times. A beautiful compelling memoir.
Holy Ghost Girl is one of my favorite memoirs to date....and not because of the scandals or the sad often heartbreaking child neglect that went down, but because Donna's story was so honest and in the mix of soap opera drama I heard a little girls voice similar to my own and found so many things I could relate to.

Donna walks readers through her childhood years living with her mother and a traveling caravan of tent revivalists, where miraculous healing, chanting women and exorcisms were the norm.
This book is a recounting of a childhood which is blissfully alien to most of us, the perspective of a child raised in the family of itinerant freelance Pentecostal preachers. Here are the tent revivals which have largely disappeared from the American spiritual landscape, and the uneasiness of racial tensions as segregation began to fall.

Ms. Johnson shows her family in all its glory and all its infamy. There is the bravery of a committed group of believers who minister to mixed race groups of co
Thomas Holbrook
Nov 21, 2011 Thomas Holbrook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoirs can be many things: a record of memories, an autobiography, a conciliatory gesture, a chance at revenge, a confession or a combination of any/all. Good memoirs allow the reader to “take on” the life of the author in an intimate way and this present addition to the genre will be listed in the “very good” section. Whether the reader is religious, agnostic, atheist, socially conscious or just curious about learning of “a different life,” this book will supply plenteous grist for thought, d ...more
Connie Bush
Dec 22, 2011 Connie Bush rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hesitated to write a review after first reading this book because I wanted to think about it more. My first reaction was of overwhelming sadness for the people who have been caught up in this cult, especially for the children. I come at this from a different perspective than many of the readers; David is my uncle, my father's youngest brother. I have heard many of these stories but from a totally different perspective. My father knew the true stories of David's childhood and youth, and to hear ...more
Jun 15, 2011 Eris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 09, 2015 Antonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard the author speak at a writers conference three years ago and was fascinated by her story. I bought the book immediately, but somehow it ended up in a pile of books and I never read it. Then I noticed that I could borrow the audio from my library consortium, so thought I’d give it a try. And I have enjoyed it immensely. The reader is awfully good. I know that people have very different tastes when it comes to readers. I didn’t always like the way she did children’s voices, but I loved her ...more
Holy Ghost Girl caught my attention because I enjoy memoirs and I spent about 10 years of my life in an Assembly of God church which was rather calm compared to the stories in this book. Johnson seems to tell it as she saw it and her writing style made the story interesting and believable. And I believe every word – men like the preacher she wrote about exist – I’ve seen them myself. There really isn’t much in this book that surprised me but for others who are unfamiliar, I’m sure they will be f ...more
I have somewhat of an obsession with stories of non-mainstream Christian denominations in America. It fascinates me that we have the fairly sedate and almost identical (tell me that you can tell the difference between the services at a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church nowadays without looking at the sign outside) Protestant sects on the one hand, with their calm sermons and traditional hymns, and then you've got the fundamentalist and more conservative sects on the other, ones in whic ...more
Michael Kerr
Nov 22, 2015 Michael Kerr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
Having grown up in an evangelical world, I'm usually unable to stomach memoirs centred on religion - I couldn't watch Jesus Camp because it felt like I was looking at two hours of psychological child abuse. This memoir, however, manages to convey the author's soap-opera life focused on the revival tent and its loopy, womanizing leader, David Terrell, without triggering a gag reflex. The child's point of view really works here, in the same way that Walls' Glass Castle did - and it helps that the ...more
Paul Pessolano
Oct 20, 2011 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Holy Ghost Girl” by Donna M. Johnson, published by Gotham Books.

Category – Memoir

Although tent revivals are still held they had their hay day in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Around 1960 and little know preacher by the name of Brother Terrell started on the circuit. He had a modest following and it was not unusual after a revival that the company would just make expenses or even be in the hole.

Donna Johnson’s mother, Carolyn, became infatuated with David Terrell and joined the group as an organist. D
Lee Harmon
Oct 24, 2011 Lee Harmon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent! Definitely a fun book, if a bit freaky. Now, there’s a word I’ve never used before in a book review!

Donna Johnson tells the story of a little girl growing up on the “sawdust trail” of traveling tent missionary David Terrell. Yes, that David Terrell. Welcome to the world of public miracles, undercover infidelity and cognitive dissonance. On a grand scale. While it’s true the story is told through the wide eyes of a child, you may turn the final page still wondering if this wayward, cha
Feb 22, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book so enthralled me, it left me sleepless. I just finished reading this book and was so upset about what David Terrell did and how this woman grew up I had to pray and pray. Every churchgoer should read this type of book. In it you will find characteristics of a cult leader (i.e., David Terrell). You will find things every christian should look for in their church leader. If you see these characteristics manifest, you know you are in a cult and you should run like the wind. I was raised i ...more
Jun 26, 2013 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WOW! This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. Donna Johnson pulls together an impressively sensical account of her young life and faith journey as the unrecognized stepdaughter of David Terrell, a charismatic tent revival preacher, faith healer, pentacostalish prophet active in the 1960's and 70's. It's a whole new amazing world to me, the holy roller caravan life, and I was really impressed with how she wove hazy childhood memories into a real story while maintaining a sense of little-ki ...more
Oct 09, 2011 Caitlin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Donna Johnson grew up on the tent revival circuit of the 1950's and '60's. Her mother was a follower of David Terrell's ministry, playing organ for his traveling ministry. If you've never been to a tent revival, this may all seem very strange, but for many Americans these revivals are a part of a normal spiritual life - an addition to their regular church-going schedule. Tent revivals are a place to hear what I always think of as Holy Roller-type preachers. These preachers are often Pentecostal ...more
May 03, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memior
This book follows Donna Johnson's family's involvement with the infamous "evangelist" David Terrell, who preached and healed while evading the IRS, fathering eight children with four women, and taking money from impoverished followers to fund a lavish lifestyle, before ending up in jail. He has since been released and is a travelling preacher once more.
This memior is written in an open and honest style without a lot of explicit details, which I appreciate.
I found Donna Johnson's book to be tragi
Jenny Wells
Oct 28, 2011 Jenny Wells rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I devoured this book. I was disappointed when it was over. What happened? Tell me your story now, as an adult. But Johnson doesn't. I want a Part II.

My heart broke often reading her story. To me, it is the story of every child who grows up under the delusion of the adults in their life, adults living on the edge, justifying their theology and beliefs that are not "rooted and grounded in love", but something greater to the adults than the love that comes so naturally from parent to child...the lo
Naomi Young
Jul 15, 2012 Naomi Young rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, kindle
As I've mentioned before, I'm attracted to stories about faith, and how people gain and lose it. This could have been a very sensationalistic book. It's the memoir of one of the children of tent evangelist and Pentecostal Holiness preacher David Terrell. Terrell apparently took upon himself the polygamous prerogatives of the Old Testament figures, as he wandered further and further from a recognizable Christianity. But the book, since it is told mostly from a child's point of view, with limited ...more
Laura Engelken
Oct 20, 2015 Laura Engelken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed Johnson's dry humor and ability to paint a picture of the Sawdust Trail, a name to evoke the Christian revival circuit in the early to mid - 1900s. Her formative years were spent following her mother's devotion for the actual evangelist Brother David Terrell, who is still at it today.

One of the thoughts that followed me both during and after my reading of her memoir is the danger of apocalyptic theologies. People make such terrible choices for themselves and others when they be
Chaitali Sen
Feb 02, 2013 Chaitali Sen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book about a girl growing up in the tent revival scene with a preacher who is obviously corrupt yet gifted with some kind of mysterious power is so intensely and beautifully written that I felt fully immersed in that world - which was an uncomfortable feeling. I felt the fear and oppressive weight of that fundamentalist life, especially because so much of the story was told from a child's point of view. At the end of the book I felt both liberated and haunted, a testament to the narrator's ...more
Nov 14, 2013 Kelly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was somewhat disappointed by this book. I expected more out of it. I don't understand how somebody that was only four or five years old could have such a vivid recall about things that happened at that age. Most of the book seemed to focus on the little details about the revivals, and not enough about the actual story, which to me was the fact that David Terrel is a crook. I was also surprised at how rushed the ending seemed. I would've liked to of known more about what happened to her after s ...more
Dec 11, 2011 Shawna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkably kind spirited memoir about a turbulent life. After finishing this book I still cannot fathom the kind of faith that prompts people to donate their wedding rings to a traveling preacher in the hopes of receiving a miracle. I certainly came away with the impresssion that these people were sincere (as well as deluded, misguided, and gullible) and that this was not an easy life. After finishing the book I did a little research and was flabbergasted to discover that David Terrell is stil ...more
Kelsey Hanson
This biography was definitely interesting. Donna Johnson's memoirs are filled with interesting and outrageous stories of her life on the road on the road as part of a revival crew. It was so strange to hear the story of her life where people are constantly preaching salvation and giving up sins as they're cheating on their spouses. I do admit that the skeptic in me wanted more information, especially on the alleged "faith healings" though this could be because I'm not convinced that they worked. ...more
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Donna M. Johnson grew up calling the once hugely popular tent preacher David Terrell "Daddy." She left his ministry for good at the age of seventeen and has not returned. She has written about religion for the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American Statesman. She was awarded a writing residency by the Ragdale Foundation (Lake Forest, IL) in Spring 2009 and won the Mayborn Creative Nonfiction ...more
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