Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What I Read in November Part V. . .

What I Read in November Part V. . .

Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes TrialMonkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd--Young Adult historical fiction

It's the summer of 1925 and hot as you know where in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. Frances Robinson beats the heat by sipping ice cold Coca Colas in her father's drugstore and following her crush, Johnny Scopes, a teacher, around. Frances has grand visions of Johnny coming to appreciate her and love her one day soon. Her loyalty to Johnny is tested when Mr. Robinson, a member of the school board, questions Johnny about his teaching. Johnny admits he may have taught evolution when he was substituting for the usual science teacher. Even though it's in the textbook, teaching evolution is against the law in TN. Mr. Robinson and his friends decide that Johnny is the perfect person to test the power of the ACLU and see how the law holds up to a trial. Mr. Robinson is convinced that no harm will be done to Johnny and that the trial will bring in much-needed tourists and publicity. As the "trial of the century" begins, Frances begins to question everything she's been taught and understand that her father may not be the superman she always believed him to be. Before the summer is over, Dayton will be shaken to the core and nothing will ever be the same again.

I went into this book thinking I knew everything about the case from having studied Inherit the Wind in Junior High. The English, Social Studies and Science teachers combined to have us act out the play as we studied the play, government and evolution. It is one of my only happy memories of that time. I was quite shocked and sad to discover that the play is a highly fictionalized account of what actually happened! The real story is a bit less dramatic. The author of this book had to add in some drama to make it interesting. Though it's almost 90 years later, I feel the story is very relevant - more so than when I studied it in Junior High 70 years after the fact. I can easily see this happening again and I know that the questions raised in the novel are still relevant. I really liked how the author based the story on a real life woman but made the character a young adult instead of a little girl. It made the impact of the story more realistic and relevant to teens.

Frances is a complicated character. I wanted to like her but I didn't really. I found her annoying and selfish at first and very naive and silly at times. Yet, I did like her coming-of-age plot. I could relate to some of the questions she felt and coming to terms with the fact her Daddy has feet of clay. The author portrays a teen girl very accurately. Frances grew on me as she started to question everything.

Johnny Scopes is a minor character in the story. He's kind and friendly and rather bland. He isn't a fighter and he worries mainly about his job security. I felt bad for him because he was a victim in the whole thing.

I did not like Frances' father or the other men in town. I saw Frances' father as egotistical and a big dreamer. He came across as kind of slimy to me. On the other hand, I actually liked H. L. Mencken. Some of what he said was cruel but mostly he told the truth. I don't know much about him but he would be at home in today's world of tabloid journalism and snarky Twitter comments. At the same time, I liked how Frances got to know him and see a different side of him and how he made her think about the world around her.

I was hoping for more Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan. My favorite part of the trial is when Darrow puts Bryan on the witness stand. I was surprised and sad at Darrow's feelings on the outcome of the trial.

If you don't know anything about the Scopes Monkey Trial then I would recommend this book. I would also recommend it to young teens. They could learn quite a lot from it.

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