Monday, August 10, 2015

Monkey Town

Monkey Town

YA fiction
One day, while shelving in the juvenile wing of the Orono Public
Library, I was pondering on how many people, right wing Christians in
particular, still aren't convinced that there is such a thing as human
abetted climate change. I was trying to imagine what it would take to
change their minds. A slightly older (2006) book I was about to put
away caught my eye. It was about that time in 1925 when people were
deeply affronted by evolution, the idea that all of creation wasn't
achieved by God in exactly six days with the seventh to rest up. It
seemed to be just what I was in the mood for. Ronald Kidd's Monkey
Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial is the poignant and powerful
coming age story of a girl whose strongest loyalties are put in
Protagonist Frances (15) has quite the crush on teacher John
Scopes. One day her drugstore owner (and school board chair) father,
Frank, summons Scopes to meet with him. Dayton, Tennessee has lost a
lot of people since its heyday. He loves the town and thinks it just
needs publicity. The perfect opportunity has arrived. The Butler Law
had recently made it illegal to teach evolution in Tennessee. The
ACLU is looking for a teacher who will help test this law in court.
Having the big trail in Dayton will really put the town on the map.
Frank reassures Scopes that he'll take care of things. His job
won't be in jeopardy. It'll just be one swell publicity stunt to
restore Dayton to its former glory. However, you know what they say
about the best laid plans of mice and men. Very quickly everything
gets out of hand. The trial takes on the aura of a three ring
circus. And some of the commentators who were supposed to discover a
lovely little town portray its denizens as feeble minded Bible
thumping lunatics, afraid of and hostile to anything they don't
Frances is torn between her loyalties to her father and to
Scopes, whom she sees as the victim of a publicity stunt gone horribly
wrong. There actually was a Frances Robinson, the daughter of the
storeowner who started things going. Kidd was able to listen to her
stories before she passed. Monkey Town is the fine product of those
stories, historical facts, and his imagination.
On a personal note, as a feminist I greatly enjoyed one episode in
particular. There is this guy, Dudley Field Malone working on the
defense team. Reporters go flying over to the hotel when word gets
around that a woman other than his wife is checking in to stay with
him. It turns out that she is his wife, a feminist who chose to keep
her own last name.
A great big shout goes out to the fine writers who make episodes of
history really come to life.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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