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Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir Hardcover – October 13, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Johnson eloquently recounts this uncommon upbringing shaped by constant upheaval and her increasingly fraught conception of faith. Leaving the tent circuit for good at 16 gave Johnson the perspective she needed for this fascinating tale of life with a 'con man, a prophet, a performer.' "

Publishers Weekly

"Fantastic memoir about growing up in the tent revival culture of the 50s and 60s. Johnson's story is shocking and heartbreaking and feels thoroughly honest...Really exceptional writing too."
Stef Kiper, Goodreads.com

"Holy Ghost Girl turns, as good books must, from promising read into sure bet. Ms. Johnson's enthralling memoir, her first book, is about growing up on the road in a clan of what she calls Holy Rollers." — New York Times

"A page-turning, thrilling tale set in the 1960/70s containing adultery, KKK face-offs, fasting to the point of collapse, child neglect/abuse, show business and family connection." — Beliefnet.com

"Sensitive and revelatory...an impressive achievement of perspective and maturity...a haunting and memorable book." — Bookpage

"Compulsively readable' — Texas Monthly

"A trustworthy narrator, Johnson is consistently funny, poetic and remarkably devoid of bitterness." — Kirkus Reviews

"What a life! Holy Ghost Girl takes you inside a world where God and sin and miracles and deceit and love are so jumbled together you can't tell them apart. Donna Johnson sorts through her story with great insight, compassion and humor, giving us an indelible portrait of a charismatic preacher and the faithful who so desperately believed in him." -Jeannette Walls, New York Times bestselling author of The  Glass Castle

"This is a thoroughly provocative memoir. Memoirs don't usually resist the obvious. This one does. You won't find Donna M. Johnson dithering in anger, cynicism, or self-pity. Holy Ghost Girl is a sensitive exploration of the power that inheres in faith communities, however flawed." --Rhoda Janzen, author of New York Times bestseller Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

"Holy Ghost Girl is a wonder of a book. Chief among its marvels is how clear-eyed and deeply compassionate Johnson is as she recounts what it was like to grow up believing all things are possible and how hard it was to leave that harsh and deeply flawed paradise to become a part of the world in all its 'gaudy glory.' With evocatively precise details, fond humor, and an utter lack of scorn or cynicism, Johnson accomplishes the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle miracle of rendering the world through the eyes of a young child. Arriving at a time when the war between fact and faith is escalating, Holy Ghost Girl is a book that people will be talking about." — Sarah Bird, author of The Gap Year

"A wrenching and extraordinarily beautiful memoir. If you're a fan of The Glass Castle, you'll be mesmerized by Donna M. Johnson's true-life tale of how her young life was upended by her mother's love affair with an infamous charismatic preacher." — Lisa Napoli, author of Radio Shangri-La

"Donna M. Johnson's memoir captivated me from the first page. Vividly written and richly detailed, it evokes a curious subculture that few Americans are familiar with - that of the Pentecostal revival tent, with all the spiritual and carnal ecstasy that simmer beneath it. Holy Ghost Girl is also a cautionary tale of preachers whose followers elevate them to a godhood then blind themselves to their leader's often extravagant sins." --Julia Scheeres, author of New York Times bestseller Jesus Land

"A brilliant and beautiful story of people who passionately loved God and broke his commandments in almost every way possible. The kind of story the Bible is full of, told with rare compassion and grace." -Christine Wicker, author of Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead and God Knows My Heart

"I read this gorgeous book with a hand to my throat, at once drawn to and repulsed by the story of Donna Johnson's coming of age underneath a revivalist tent. Hers was a bizarro world, and yet her voice is lush and clear and full of compassion." — Karen Valby, author of Welcome to Utopia

From the Back Cover

"A brilliant and beautiful story of people who passionately loved God and broke his commandments in almost every way possible. The kind of story the Bible is full of, told with rare compassion and grace"

Christine Wicker,  Lily Dale: the True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (October 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592406300
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592406302
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donna Johnson found redemption in books and the University of Texas. She planned to be a journalist, but her career was hijacked by marketing and advertising. As a result, she spent years writing about the mysterious workings of technology, most of which she took on faith.

Through the writing of Holy Ghost Girl Donna found a way to connect the disparate parts of her self. The sight of a gospel tent stretched against an evening sky leaves an ache in her heart, but she no longer flees at the sound of a tambourine. She has been known to tell people she'll pray for them. And she does.

The big questions posed by religion continue to occupy Donna. She has written about matters of faith for the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American Statesman. Donna lives and writes in Austin Tx, where with the help of family and friends, she works at becoming a regular person.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've never had the opportunity to visit a holy roller tent revival with a blood and thunder preacher renowned for his ability to heal deafness, blindness, lameness, tumors, and every sort of affliction. If one did come to town, I'd probably keep my distance, but I'd be intensely curious about the goings-on within. Donna Johnson not only tells us about the services, she gives richly detailed accounts of how Brother David Terrell's hands would turn red and hot and tremble with supernatural energy as he began healing sessions. She also gives detailed accounts of how Terrell ran his camp of followers and conducted affairs of all sorts with the women among them.

Johnson knows about these things first hand. When she was only three years old, her divorced mother became Terrell's organist, hitting the road with Johnson and her infant brother. They were raised together with the Terrell children, moving every few weeks from one ramshackle temporary lodging to another that her family shared with the Terrells and another evangelistic couple. She gives intimate details of living conditions as well as the progressive growth of Terrell's ministry. She painstakingly documents growing tensions among the women as the story builds.

Then came the three year period during which she and her brother were abandoned to live with a series of strangers in often horrifying circumstances. Finally their mother returned, no longer on the road, and began a clandestine life as Terrell's "other" wife, never acknowledged openly in public. Johnson felt an urge to be accepted by kids at school, and her mother didn't discourage this.
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Format: Hardcover
Donna, thank you so much for validating my childhood! I was raised as a Terrellite for 18 years, and can attest to most of her accounts of this man's history. My family even testified in behalf at his IRS trial in San Antonio. Thank you so much for writing this book, bringing this to light and validating the thousands of children who knew no better for so long. The ones who begged God to let them awaken from their nightmares, their depression and the ones who had to throw out everything they had ever learned about spirit and start all over again. I spent the first half of my life waiting to be quartered and tortured by communists, storing food and supplies, and trying to prepare to meet my eminent doom and the enevitable destruction of America. My family was one of those who sold out, gave everything and moved to the "blessed area". My parents were one of the many who gave their wedding bands in the offering bucket. I remember the whippings on stage, and my great-uncle was one of the many who took a turn with that whip. I cannot begin to tell everyone how much damage this man brought to me, my family, my mental health, and especially to my spiritually. Donna, I cannot thank you enough!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An absolutely great read for me, for a number of reasons: Donna hits rock-bottom honesty, she isn't sitting in condemnation, and this chronicle beautifully, poetically, poignantly, compassionately and stylishly lays out the truth (I was there). I was frankly astounded at the beauty of this book. It should be a best-seller. I'd recommend it to anyone.

I followed the same ministry during the '70s, the same time Donna tells about in the last couple chapters. I only knew the later amazing "prophet" with the hillbilly accent. He was a dynamo that scared the beelzebub out of you. Of course, over time his credibility began to fade in the sheer light of day.

I was a "sold out" and close enough to the "end-time" ministry to see some of the homes (I worked on one)and some of the close family inconsistencies. But I kept my questions compartmentalized for a long time, daring not to question what I thought was "of God." I even did the funeral for the little girl whose parents abandoned her to death by faith, that Donna mentions was the beginning of investigations that unraveled the Terrellite fabric.

As I read this book, the stream-of-consciousness historicity reminded me of Jack Kerouac. Donna is a marvelous writer. I already knew the things of which she writes; but I didn't know the background of the '60s before I committed to "the ministry." Donna brings back the surreal quality of the whole religious circus that it was. Maybe now I can accept Terrell for the human that he was and sublimate the regret and anger beneath my surface. We want to blame and lament lost years looking for the "7 years of tribulation" we believed were here. But Donna reveals a humility borne of the whole experience. I did it willingly.

I can't recommend this book enough. For anyone.
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Finished "Holy Ghost Girl" this morning- up all night....

After the first line of the Prologue, I was hooked on Holy Ghost Girl:
"Donna, I don't know if you're coming to the funeral, but I heard Daddy's gonna try to raise Randall from the dead."

Soon, I couldn't wait to "hear" what Brother Terrell had to say... Soon I was a tent girl too; "sitting" on those hard revival chairs, knowing full well that I am a lost sinner. I need Brother Terrell's saving grace...Can I get it? "Yes, you can" says Brother Terrell, but at what cost?

Do read this succulent memoir. Much more then a religious expose, Holy Ghost Girl is all about the journey- skinning the layers of a life; navigating through a matrix of contradictory forces...A childhood, vividly portrayed, and anything but ordinary...
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