Book Review: "Holy Ghost Girl" by Donna Johnson

Summary from She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of tent revivalist David Terrell, and before long, Donna Johnson was part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher's inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger-than-fiction memories. A homecoming like no other, Holy Ghost Girl brings to life miracles, exorcisms, and faceoffs with the Ku Klux Klan. And that's just what went on under the tent.

As Terrell became known worldwide during the 1960s and '70s, the caravan of broken-down cars and trucks that made up his ministry evolved into fleets of Mercedes and airplanes. The glories of the Word mixed with betrayals of the flesh and Donna's mother bore Terrell's children in one of the several secret households he maintained. Thousands of followers, dubbed "Terrellites" by the press, left their homes to await the end of the world in cultlike communities. Jesus didn't show, but the IRS did, and the prophet/healer went to prison.

Recounted with deadpan observations and surreal detail, Holy Ghost Girl bypasses easy judgment to articulate a rich world in which the mystery of faith and human frailty share a surprising and humorous coexistence.

Even though I'm a Christian, I'm still very wary over a lot of these tent revivals and evangelists. While there are many who are genuine about their faith, there are plenty of others who are wolves in sheep's clothing. There are many who profess true faith but are really con artists and preying on others.

Throughout the book, we see through Donna's young eyes how deceptive and manipulative so called preacher Terrell is. I shuddered at the abuse that the children went through and how these so called Christians had no problems letting them suffer. It was hard reading about how their mother pretty much abandoned them for her new faith and preacher. It's always interesting about how many followers of these preachers tend to be women, especially women who come from abusive or needy backgrounds. The description of the book mentions that there are humorous parts but I just found it mostly sad and appalling of how everyone lived.

It's interesting that while I was reading, I kept feeling that the book was taking place during the 1800s due to how the commune tended to live. I kept feeling jolted when I realized that it was actually during the 1960s and 70s. Near the end of the book, the book speeds up very fast and Donna jumps from a little kid to a teenager in mere paragraphs. I have to admit that I was a bit let down by the book. I thought it was going to be a huge expose where Johnson completely turned away from the faith and would have some big confrontation in the end. Surprisingly this does not happen and it almost made me feel as if Johnson still believed in him. I googled David Terrell after finishing the book and was surprised to see that he's still doing preaching. It rather scares me that there are still that many gullible people out there listening to him and also that he's continuing to believe that his ways are right or at least still respects him.

Overall this book gives a very eye opening inside look at what some of these preachers really are like. It's even more sadder that it is told through a young child's eyes. I do wonder how much of it affected Johnson for the rest of her life. If you're in the mood for a memoir that is revealing, this is the book for you.

Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson is published by Gotham (2011)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by the publisher. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to US and Canada entrants only. Winner will be picked Friday, October 21.

PLEASE use the form only to enter the contest. For any comments about the book, review, etc. please use the comments link at the bottom of the post. All information must be filled out correctly or else your entry will not count. (ie. you must use FULL name and list your mailing address). Your info will only be used for this contest and will be deleted after the contest is over.


  1. about a sad story. I can't imagine living through that as a child. Lord knows the questions she must've wondered but never asked all of her life.

  2. Anonymous12:44 PM

    "While there are many who are genuine about their faith, there are plenty of others who are wolves in sheep's clothing." Being a Christian myself, I totally understand what you are saying here.

    I'm glad this turned out to be a good read, even though it is really a sad story. Thanks for being on the tour!

  3. I actually won this book as an early reviewer book from - but... I never received it! and its been months. So, I just signed up to win! I really do want to read it!

  4. Her experiences definitely affected Johnson. I really appreciated that she told her story with respect to others.


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