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Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith

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Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―an Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―and it’s not until her life is burnt to the ground that she finds the courage to leave. Raw and illuminating, Once You Go In is a coming-of-age story about the beauty and danger of absolute faith, and the stories people tell themselves to avoid their deepest fears.


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Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―an Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―and it’s not until her life is burnt to the ground that she finds the courage to leave. Raw and illuminating, Once You Go In is a coming-of-age story about the beauty and danger of absolute faith, and the stories people tell themselves to avoid their deepest fears.

30 review for Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrea 'Andi'

    Beautifully written memoir that really touched a nerve in me. As a Christian (raised Baptist), I wasn't sure how I'd feel reading this, but I was right there with the author. The way it's written made me feel like I was right there through all of her trials and tribulations, and I found myself saying, "No, don't do that!" or "Wait, think about what you're doing!" By the end, it felt like I'd gone full circle with her; I was tired, I was hopeful, I was cheering. Highly recommended. *I save 5 star Beautifully written memoir that really touched a nerve in me. As a Christian (raised Baptist), I wasn't sure how I'd feel reading this, but I was right there with the author. The way it's written made me feel like I was right there through all of her trials and tribulations, and I found myself saying, "No, don't do that!" or "Wait, think about what you're doing!" By the end, it felt like I'd gone full circle with her; I was tired, I was hopeful, I was cheering. Highly recommended. *I save 5 stars for a very, very few books that I want to be buried with!*

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Once You Go In was nothing like what I expected, but everything I didn't know I needed. This is a tale of a young girl's journey through, and eventually out of, evangelical Christianity. Carly's beautiful writing and conversational tone had me hooked from the beginning. While I expected a story that revealed vast corruption and greed, I instead got a tender story of a young girl's journey through loneliness, heart ache, insecurity, and depression. Even though I did not grow up in a faith nearly Once You Go In was nothing like what I expected, but everything I didn't know I needed. This is a tale of a young girl's journey through, and eventually out of, evangelical Christianity. Carly's beautiful writing and conversational tone had me hooked from the beginning. While I expected a story that revealed vast corruption and greed, I instead got a tender story of a young girl's journey through loneliness, heart ache, insecurity, and depression. Even though I did not grow up in a faith nearly as radical as hers, I found myself identifying with the main character...and sometimes questioning if she somehow read through my middle school journals. While we constantly hear the phrase, "you are not alone", it was through reading this book that the young girl still living inside of me finally heard it. Overall this was a gorgeous read! Highly recommend it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Voss

    This memoir is such a captivating story about faith and triumph over fear. It’s a compassionate and gripping telling of a girls grasp on faith and how a horrible tragedy leads her back to faith. It’s a real interesting story to read and it leaves you wanting to read it until the very end. You cannot put it down. Carly does a great story telling of her own ordeals and it’s just a fabulous read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jean Huber

    Carly Gelsinger’s Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith was a whole lot more than I bargained for when I began reading this next stop in the BookSparks #MagicOfMemoir blog tour. Carly’s tale or joining, growing up in and finally leaving the Pine Canyon Assembly Of God Church is like watching a car crash in slow motion, and then being able to watch it all go back to the way it was in reverse. As an impressionable preteen Carly joined the local Assembly of God Church. At first the kind of fait Carly Gelsinger’s Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith was a whole lot more than I bargained for when I began reading this next stop in the BookSparks #MagicOfMemoir blog tour. Carly’s tale or joining, growing up in and finally leaving the Pine Canyon Assembly Of God Church is like watching a car crash in slow motion, and then being able to watch it all go back to the way it was in reverse. As an impressionable preteen Carly joined the local Assembly of God Church. At first the kind of faith and prayer being practiced there scared Carly, but she wanted badly to belong and to know why she wasn’t able to connect with God the way the other teenagers within the church were. Throughout the book you see Carly fall deeper and deeper in to the mental abuse and cult mentality that the church and youth group Carly belonged to thrived on. Carly continues down this path even when it hurts herself and her family because in many ways she just can’t understand how to live without it until she comes to a breaking point and sees for the first time just how much danger she is in. This isn’t normal faith. This wasn’t faith at all. What Carly was subjected to was abuse. The remainder of Carly’s story is very relatable even if you haven’t dealt with radical faith, and that is how you find your way back to faith in any form after you lose it or have extreme doubts. As an adult Carly is very slow to trust any organized religion again and to feel comfortable in a faith setting because of the trauma of her youth inside the Assembly Of God Church. She has to confront a lot of the events she suppressed and deal with the emotions of anger and grief that follow before she can go into another situation and trust that she won’t be hurt again. It was a very powerful testament to the type of person Carly was all along that even after all she had been through she was willing to give religion of any kind another chance. Overall this was a very powerful read. It was in no way an easy book to read because often the content was uncomfortable or even enraging. It is hard to judge a book when it is dealing with people’s religious beliefs, but as I said before in this instance this crossed over from church to cult. I am in no way saying every church within The Assembly Of God is on this level but I also can not say that isn’t true. I have never been a member, my personal experience with members has not been what I would call encouraging and then mixed with this book, that is how I am forming my opinion currently. I definitely believe reading books and memoirs like this are important to build awareness and also empathy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kayo

    Very enlightening. Perfect book to read today while we are having a blizzard, and couldn't get to church. Lol

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Carly Gelsinger's journey through and out of evangelical Christianity is very powerful. If you've never understood radical religion, her experiences will take you there and show you why it appealed to her as a teen. If you have left conservative or evangelical Christianity you will see parts of your own story reflected in hers. She has a gift for making the complicated personal and clear. I'm so glad to have read this book!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Macy Rodriguez

    I was pleasantly surprised to find myself so invested in the characters of this memoir. This was a great read about a "crazy for Jesus" teenager & her life inside her religious "cult". The verbage at the beginning of the book had me a little put off. I felt as if I was reading straight out of Carly's 7th grade journal. I completely understand this is a memoir and the author purposely did this to convey her adolescent thinking. However as a reader, you either really enjoy this writing style o I was pleasantly surprised to find myself so invested in the characters of this memoir. This was a great read about a "crazy for Jesus" teenager & her life inside her religious "cult". The verbage at the beginning of the book had me a little put off. I felt as if I was reading straight out of Carly's 7th grade journal. I completely understand this is a memoir and the author purposely did this to convey her adolescent thinking. However as a reader, you either really enjoy this writing style or you don't, with myself being the latter. I appreciate the author being raw with her feelings & questionings -that plagued her from the moment she was first introduced to this group. At times I felt as though I could almost feel the energy seeping out that small church of "radical, Jesus-Loving "freaks" . It felt real. The small-town girl in me is left with questions...... What happened to Jessa & Jacob? What events led to Lauren's fallout with the group? Would love to know more about Dahlia's personal story during the 10 years y'all were separated. Thank you for sharing your story, it unfolded into an interesting & thought provoking read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Debi Lantzer

    Rating 3.5 stars! Every now and again, BookSparks has what they call a PopUp Blog Tour where they provide a book for bloggers to read and review.  It's a random tour that, well, pops up. When I saw this book popping up (sorry to keep using that phrase), I was curious but also concerned that I might not be able to feel comfortable reading this book being a Christian. Turns out, everything was just fine. Once You Go In is actually a very well-written story about breaking the chains of a hostile chur Rating 3.5 stars! Every now and again, BookSparks has what they call a PopUp Blog Tour where they provide a book for bloggers to read and review.  It's a random tour that, well, pops up. When I saw this book popping up (sorry to keep using that phrase), I was curious but also concerned that I might not be able to feel comfortable reading this book being a Christian. Turns out, everything was just fine. Once You Go In is actually a very well-written story about breaking the chains of a hostile church and finding your own truth.  We learn about young Carly Gelsinger from the time she steps into a church for the first time, to joining a radical Pentacostal church, Pine Canyon Assemblies of God Church, as a teenager.  Carly shares how she starts to feel like she is finally accepted for who she is and the church helps her feel like she has purpose in life. Carly begins to feel God speaking to her and through her.  Carly is pulled into the church and goes through so much there, all at the same time she is struggling depression and other mental health issues she didn't even realize she had.   Over time, though, Carly loses the feelings of belonging and love, and instead feels "less than" or not good enough and attacked.  She actually feels manipulated, and ultimately, Carly she finds the courage and strength to get out and leave the church. I appreciated Carly sharing her own story in her own words.  She didn't "trash" the church particularly, she only spoke about how she felt in it and how she experienced things there and how it didn't work in her life.  I don't write spoilers, but I will say that the ending to this book is honestly very redemptive and I am happy for Carly that she has a new and happy life with her family. I received a complimentary paperback copy of this book from the publishers as part of a PopUp Blog Tour from BookSparks in exchange for this post.  A positive review was not required.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kat (whatskatreading)

    A huge thank you to #Netgalley and She Writes Press for this copy of "Once You Go In" in exchange for my honest review. A very well-written story about breaking the chains of a hostile church and finding one's truth. Carly Gelsinger is a dedicated young woman "ON FIRE" for Jesus. When she joins Pine Canyon Church, a radically Pentecostal church, she begins to experience a feeling of acceptance and purpose. She feels God speaking to her, through her, around her. Carly feels that she has found whe A huge thank you to #Netgalley and She Writes Press for this copy of "Once You Go In" in exchange for my honest review. A very well-written story about breaking the chains of a hostile church and finding one's truth. Carly Gelsinger is a dedicated young woman "ON FIRE" for Jesus. When she joins Pine Canyon Church, a radically Pentecostal church, she begins to experience a feeling of acceptance and purpose. She feels God speaking to her, through her, around her. Carly feels that she has found where she belongs. Over the years, the speaking in tongues, the thrashing convulsions of faith and moments of enlightenment, no longer come to her in a form of acceptance and love. Instead, she is constantly feeling criticized, not good enough, attacked, and even manipulated. What I particularly enjoyed about Gelsinger's writing is that she never insulted or spoke negatively about Pine Canyon church or any of the affiliated organizations in which she encountered this radical faith. Instead, she wrote in such a way that explains to the reader "This is what I believed in, this is how I experienced it, this is why I believed in it, and this is how I realized it wasn't good for me." It was a very intriguing read, because there is so much more that people don't understand about the ones who are so devoted to radical churches such as Pine Canyon. Gelsinger explains everything in her own experience. From the moment when she was a girl stepping into the church for the first time, to being a young woman in college, dealing with heartache and social acceptance, she speaks her truth and does it very well. Truly enjoyed this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This was such a compelling narrative of one individual's experience with a semi-closed conservative Pentacostal church community that I read it in just a few days. I couldn't put it down. I kept waiting for what I've come to expect in such memoirs: a zealous religious leader turning out to be corrupt and abusive. Instead, what I found was much more subtle yet nonetheless traumatic, particularly because the church's strictures were so all-consuming and ongoing, affecting the narrator's every face This was such a compelling narrative of one individual's experience with a semi-closed conservative Pentacostal church community that I read it in just a few days. I couldn't put it down. I kept waiting for what I've come to expect in such memoirs: a zealous religious leader turning out to be corrupt and abusive. Instead, what I found was much more subtle yet nonetheless traumatic, particularly because the church's strictures were so all-consuming and ongoing, affecting the narrator's every facet of life as she came of age. This memoir is written by a young author, just a few years beyond the experience. As a result, it would be a great read for my college students in understanding how to make sense of their relatively recent childhood and adolescent experiences. However, at times, I found myself wishing a bit more distance had been placed between the events themselves and the writing of the memoir. I think there is potential for more meaning-making here, as well as some tropes that could be developed to deepen the reader's experience. All in all, though, I was gripped by this book and glad to read something so unique in the way of memoirs about conservative religious experience.

  11. 5 out of 5

    April Greissinger

    Big thanks to BookSparks for sending me this free book in exchange for my honest review!! "My fire for God changed m, and wile I never want to go back, I can see hope is leading the way to something goo. It has led me to the slow growth of faith, of small shoots of life pushing up from dead stumps, of expansive views of hope I may have never seen otherwise." First off, what an amazing outlook and reflection on life after all the experiences she has been through! This was such a shocking and power Big thanks to BookSparks for sending me this free book in exchange for my honest review!! "My fire for God changed m, and wile I never want to go back, I can see hope is leading the way to something goo. It has led me to the slow growth of faith, of small shoots of life pushing up from dead stumps, of expansive views of hope I may have never seen otherwise." First off, what an amazing outlook and reflection on life after all the experiences she has been through! This was such a shocking and powerful memoir about Carly's experiences assimilating into a Pentecostal church as a teenager, and ultimately when she finds the courage to get out and leave the church. I was intrigued from the very beginning and Carly truly holds nothing back! I love how open and vulnerable she is while recounting her life and experiences. She really lets the readers into her mind when she first began looking into the church and as she was dutifully attending. She struggles finding her worth and trying to fit in throughout her life. Th things she went through with that church were shocking and made me so sad for her. I wanted to pull her out and to be there for her as she struggled and didn't really have anyone there for her. She was pulled into this church and went through so much during her time there! All while struggling depression and other mental health issues she does't even realize she had. It took so much courage and strength to leave in the end, and I am glad she can look back on her experiences and see how she grew as a person. I love learning through people's experiences and an grateful that Carly shared so much through her story. The ending is beautiful and redemptive and I am happy for her with her family now and the new and restorative life she has created.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Another interesting read on the Bookspark's Magic of Memoir Tour! I'm always intrigued by cults and radical religions. This one was told from the perspective of a teenage girl who initially looks to religion to find friendship. While she tries to immerse herself in the Pentecostal church (including conforming to the rules, speaking in tongues, and trying to convert others) she finds herself struggling with her beliefs and commitment to the church. It was fascinating to learn about radical faith Another interesting read on the Bookspark's Magic of Memoir Tour! I'm always intrigued by cults and radical religions. This one was told from the perspective of a teenage girl who initially looks to religion to find friendship. While she tries to immerse herself in the Pentecostal church (including conforming to the rules, speaking in tongues, and trying to convert others) she finds herself struggling with her beliefs and commitment to the church. It was fascinating to learn about radical faith as well as the drastically different upbringing of someone who was a teenager around the same time I was. While her experience with religion was unique, her feelings and desire to belong and make friends are universal for any kid growing up.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Once You Go In is a well written, fast paced memoir about the author’s time in a radical church. Carly Gelainger has a very conversational writing style that feels like she is narrating her story in real time. Beginning as an awkward and lonely teen who just goes to the local bible camp to make friends, she is soon swept into a life that revolves around the church. No secular music, even the Beatles!!!, and modest clothing. Never quite able to commit fully, her doubt throughout this time keeps t Once You Go In is a well written, fast paced memoir about the author’s time in a radical church. Carly Gelainger has a very conversational writing style that feels like she is narrating her story in real time. Beginning as an awkward and lonely teen who just goes to the local bible camp to make friends, she is soon swept into a life that revolves around the church. No secular music, even the Beatles!!!, and modest clothing. Never quite able to commit fully, her doubt throughout this time keeps this memoir accessible to all. As a life long atheist, I wasn’t sure I’d connect with this memoir. I was a teen who just wanted to fit in and be accepted though so I can see how her journey started.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Smith

    I couldn’t stop reading! Although I was raised in a different faith environment, I experienced many of the things Ms. Gelsinger so vividly describes in her book. I couldn’t stop reading, I had to hear what happened next in her story. This book is worth your time!! 5 stars from me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Riveting. Very well written. A page turner.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarahbeth Caplin

    Read this in two sittings- engaging and fast-paced. I felt so angry on Carly's behalf for what happened in Pine Canyon. It really resonated with me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Duncan G Aldridge

    Really interesting book about Carly's spiritual journey.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cara Meredith

    A powerful, beautiful spiritual memoir that’s bound to paint a new picture of revival, a thousand times over.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Josiah

    Stunning

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sierra

    I will never get over how similar my story is to Carly. Knowing I wasn't alone in the absolute insane church experiences I had from ages 15-25 is so, so nice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sally M

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Lehn

  24. 5 out of 5

    ACE VOLTA

    Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―and it’s not until her life is burnt to the ground that she finds the courage to leave. Raw and illuminating,Once You Go In is Carly Gelsinger is an awkward and lonely thirteen-year-old when she stumbles into Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, the cracked stucco church on the outskirts of her remote small town. She assimilates, despite her apprehensions, because she is desperate to belong. Soon, she is on fire for God. She speaks in tongues, slays demons, and follows her abusive pastor’s every word―and it’s not until her life is burnt to the ground that she finds the courage to leave. Raw and illuminating,Once You Go In is a coming-of-age tale about the beauty and danger of absolute faith, and the stories people tell themselves to avoid their deepest fears. REVIEW: I love a good book about cults, it's kinda my weird obsession. What got me about the description was my own Pentecostal upbringing, the extreme way people just throw themselves into religion. While this isn't a cult the way you typically think of them, there is an underlying current that can sweep you away into that territory. I never subscribed to the religion the way Carly Gelsinger did, but I felt every single feeling she felt. The apprehension, the feeling that I'm not doing this the right way, I'm not as good a Christian as everyone here. Religion gives you a great amount of belonging and acceptance from people, as long as you're participating the same way everyone else is. That therein lies the danger. I devoured this book in two days. There is nothing too extreme about the situations she's in, there's no murder or poisoned kool-aid, but is definitely anxiety producing. You are rooting for her the whole way to snap out of the fog that's consumed her. That's not to say that religion is bad, but it's not a one size fit all belief system. It goes to show that when your gut is telling you that something is not right and doesn't suit you, you need to listen.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Charles Lyons

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sierra

  27. 4 out of 5

    Delisa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tania

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erika

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