How thrilling to discover another memoir with appeal similar to Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005)! Still, when I am looking for something to recommend to a high school reader, I often find myself checking, “Have you read The Glass Castle yet?” If not, it almost always goes, after just a short description.
What is the common thread among great memoirs with appeal to teens? I believe that it’s not only the interest in lives on the edge, not only the extremes of neglect or strange behavior, it’s the love. In The Glass Castle it is the love of the author for her parents, in spite of their actions. In Jesus Land it is Julia Scheeres’ love for her brother. In Holy Ghost Girl, Johnson cannot entirely condemn Terrell for the way he treated her mother, or her mother for her own neglect. She is still somewhat mesmerized by Terrell herself.
For more about the book, take a look at the author’s website, which includes a book trailer, readers’ guide, author Q&A, and excerpt.
Adult/High School–Charismatic traveling preacher Brother David Terrell had a wife and two children when Johnson’s mother ran away to accompany him musically on the sawdust trail, taking her daughter with her. Johnson’s memoir is framed by the announcement of her brother’s funeral and Terrell’s plans to raise him from the dead. In between the author grew up moving from extreme poverty to the height of Terrell’s success–revival tents at one point cover the size of two football fields and yield millions of dollars, private ranches, jets and multiple cars–to his inevitable fall. Much of the memoir details the author’s relationship with Terrell. Was he a con man? Prophet? Healer? When traveling together, he was a man of God and they rode in the car with his wife and children. When they were living together, she was supposed to call him “uncle,” which didn’t quite explain what to call him when he was kissing her mom on the lips. Johnson has a terrific ability to write details as seen through the eyes of a child, letting readers discern what is really happening before the narrator is able to understand herself, such as Brother David putting his hand on her mother’s knee in the back seat as he was driving and Terrell’s wife saying something sharp. Brilliant prose that is both precise and evocative of larger truths illuminates the normalized yet bewildering world. The story is not as dramatic but on par with Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005) and Julia Scheeres’ Jesus Land (Counterpoint, 2005). Teens are going to love this book.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA