cover image Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial

Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial

Jen Bryant, Author . Knopf $15.99 (228p) ISBN 978-0-375-84047-

Why not break the law and bring in some tourists? Conjuring fictionalized inhabitants of crumbling Dayton, Tenn., home of the infamous Scopes “monkey trial,” Bryant (The Trial ) lets her characters speak directly, in well-honed verse that illuminates a broad range of perspectives. Overheard near a drugstore soda fountain, scheming business owners and a publicity-chasing superintendent get permission from a popular teacher, J.T. Scopes, to arrest him for violating the Butler Act, which bans the teaching of evolution. Adventure-seeking kids, skeptical journalists, erudite scientists, curious townsfolk and one shrill evangelical all have their say on the ensuing battle between silver-tongued prosecutor William Jennings Bryan and sharp-witted defense lawyer Clarence Darrow. Bryant obviously sympathizes with Darrow and the Darwinists, but she doesn't heavily stack the deck: the eloquent insights she attributes to her characters are evenly distributed. Nor does she go out of her way to emphasize the timeliness of the topic. The colorful facts she retrieves, the personal story lines and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)