Author: Jen Bryant
Lexile Score: n/a
Genre: Historical Fiction - Verse Novel
Maturity level: 5th grade (nothing risky here, just a bit more intellectual)
Pages: 223 Chapters: not really chapters - seven "parts"
Theme: religion vs. science
Project ideas: Draw pictures of the people telling the story (I found myself wishing these were included)
First Line: Several quotes, and each character has his/her first poem, but it starts with Peter Sykes, who says: That morning, Jimmy and me had hiked clear to Connor's pond, halfway up the mountain, and back again.
Main Character: J.T. Scopes, William Jennings Bryan, and Clarence Darrow. But the story is told by nince fictional characters, who really play the main roles.
Review in 25 words or less: Not since Out of the Dust have I learned so much and been so delighted with a verse novel. Bryant teaches and entertains creatively & completely in Ringside: 1925.
Told in verse form, this is the story of nine fictional residents of Dayton, Tennessee who lived through the famous Scopes Monkey trial. Each person takes turns telling his or her story as they piece together the actual events of the arrest, trial, and verdict. We get to listen to their thoughts as they work out their own uncertainties regarding evolution and faith. As hey dialogue with both each other and with the historical characters of the trial, we read a more complete recounting of the event - not just of facts, but of emotions, too.
I absolutely loved this book. It was amazingly well-thought-out, with intriguing story lines developed for each character. It tells the historical details of the trial completely, even including (I assume) accurate quotes from the various players. It also presents all sides of the arguments by pitting the fictional characters of Dayton against each other in thoughts and actions. The writing is very strong, not a single poem is unnecessary or off-task. And even though the purpose is to tell the story of the trial, the stories of the characters are also fully developed, interesting, and fun. One example: There are two younger boys who earn money running errands for tourists, judges, and others. Their friendship begins to erode as they rehearse their biblical and scientific beliefs with each other. Jen Bryant has done such a wonderful job imagining how these conversations might sound at all levels of intellect and wisdom. She has taken the scholarly rants of Bryan and Darrow, and then reconstructed them for the mouths of her characters. The arguments were emotional then, and still get plenty of airtime today - making this book highly significant.
It would be a wonderful book for a book club. It would also be perfect paired with a study of evolution, or a discussion (at higher academic levels or church settings) of religion and evolution. I wonder: there has been much debate on this topic of teaching evolution in schools. Would there be similar debate over the teaching of the history of this trial?