Austin-Area Reading Circle

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Reader's Guide: March 2012

Holy Ghost Girl

by Donna Johnson

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.

Read a review of this book on the Story Circle Book Reviews site.

  1. How much did you know about tent preachers before reading Holy Ghost Girl? What was your opinion of them and how did it change—if at all—over the course of the book?

  2. Have you ever attended a revival meeting? How would you categorize your own spiritual beliefs?

  3. Have you ever witnessed something that you couldn't explain? Did you let it sway your beliefs or did you dismiss it?

  4. What does Johnson seem to be saying about the nature of belief when she discusses how her personal miracle came and went?

  5. Why would Brother Terrell risk his personal safety defending blacks from the Ku Klux Klan while he "told racist jokes in private" (p. 55)?

  6. A United Nations report indicates that the Pentecostal movement has "been the most successful at recruiting its members from the poorest of the poor." How would you explain this? What does this movement offer the poor that others do not?

  7. It's always a little jarring when one begins to see a parent figure as a fallible human rather than a perfect being. Did Johnson's recollections of Carolyn resonate with memories of your own mother or father?

  8. In what ways did Brother Terrell anticipate the broader, more mainstream evangelical movement? Are any of his teachings reflected in today's mega churches?

  9. The idea that wearing Levis indicated that "Donna has been taken over by a lesbian spirit" (p. 234) seems preposterous today—and even to Terrell in the 1960's. Can you think of anything considered taboo today that might be accepted unblinkingly twenty or thirty years from now?

  10. Johnson opens her book with news that Terrell plans to try to raise his son Randall from the dead. How did this prepare you for the story that she was about to share?
  11. Compare Holy Ghost Girl to other coming-of-age memoirs you've read and enjoyed. Is there a common thread that draws you to these stories?