Drugstore owner Frank Robinson wants to bring Dayton, Tennessee, back to life. Since Cumberland Coal and Iron shut down its blast furnace, business is hurting and the population is declining. Robinson’s solution? Publicity! Let the outside world know the town’s charms. So, when the ACLU seeks a teacher willing to test a law that bans the teaching of evolution, Robinson thinks of John Scopes, a young football and basketball coach who taught the chapter on evolution when he was a substitute teacher in science class. Complicating matters is 15-year-old Frances Robinson, who has a crush on Scopes and finds herself torn between loyalty to her father and her love for Johnny. She is forced to grow up and see the world in new ways that summer.
As the 1925 trial of the century shapes up, Dayton does, indeed, attract publicity. It becomes the laughingstock of the entire nation. Readers who know the story through Inherit the Wind will enjoy Ronald Kidd’s retelling in Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial. Kidd does a fabulous job of recreating the sense of a small Tennessee town taking on more than it can handle. When William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow hash out evolution versus science, with H.L. Mencken reporting for the national papers, Judge Raulston decides to limit the case to a simple matter of whether Scopes did indeed teach evolution. All of the fiery rhetoric comes to naught when Scopes is found guilty after nine minutes of jury deliberation and fined $100.
In the chaos of a little town inundated by the outside world and a young girl in love with a man on trial, all lives are changed.
Readers will find inevitable similarities to To Kill A Mockingbird in this superb historical novel, which has a strong sense of place, well-developed characters and clearly related ideas. Dean Schneider is a teacher in Nashville.