Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson

I always thought tent revivals were the stuff of movies or of a time long since disappeared. And in some ways, I'm not wrong. Charismatic Holy Roller preachers are not terribly common any more, their ministries smaller. This memoir is the story of a woman who grew up in the shadow of one of the remaining tents, whose mother chose to follow the magnetic David Terrell around the country, and who has written a clear-eyed, compassionate, balanced story of her life growing up in this world set apart.

Johnson was only three when her mother, a gifted musician, packed Donna and her younger brother into a car and followed David Terrell as the revival organist. Johnson details her early years traveling with their evangelical family, falling asleep against her mother in the back of a car as they drove from one town to another. She captures the moments of childish rebellion, the sliding into sleep as the prayers lasted for hours into the night, the amalgam of people who formed the inner circle, and the wonderment and love that she felt towards Terrell. She chronicles faith healings and an exorcism. She describes the faithful evenhandedly. And she shares the heartwrenching moment when she and her brother and Terrell's children are left behind with a follower while the adults continued on the circuit.

As Terrell's fame as a preacher and faith healer grows and her mother's affair with him (which resulted in three children) becomes more intense, their lives change from the open hardscrabble existence that they once knew to a more secretive but fixed and financially secure lifestyle. Less visceral than her early childhood experiences and not as comprehensive about her experiences, Johnson chronicles this time in her life when she loses much of her faith, marries at the age of fifteen, and leaves her family for the first time. Despite her ultimate questioning about the paradoxes between Terrell's ministry and life of affluence, she never declares him a charlatan.

Her upbringing was unusual and despite the fact that she lives a life outside the one that she knew when she was young, this is not a complete repudiation memoir. The chasm between the life that Terrell leads on the back of his followers' assets and the lives that they lead, destitute after giving him their money, is a huge one. But Johnson manages not to demonize Terrell. She questions his morality and confronts his obvious sins but she also acknowledges the great draw of the miracles he's performed and does not dismiss them as manufactured for the revival believers. All in all a fascinating and balanced look at an unusual childhood and the ministry that pervaded every aspect of it.

For more information about Donna Johnson and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I like that the author doesn't completely demonize Terrell; it seems that though he made some VERY BAD decisions, he also impacted some people in extremely positive ways. This sounds like a fascinating memoir!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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