- Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial
Fifteen-year-old Frances Robinson's father and other Dayton, Tennessee, leaders assure local high-school teacher Johnny Scopes that his arrest for teaching the theory of evolution is just a scheme to generate hometown publicity. However, as the case gains national prominence and celebrities like Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, and H. L. Mencken enter the scene amid simmering local tensions, it's clear that Scopes' reputation and livelihood are on the line. When the school board delays renewing Scopes' teaching contract, Frances begins to lose her faith in her father, as well as to question her own belief in creationism and her newfound feelings for Johnny Scopes. Based on historical fact, this fiction imagines the Scopes trial from the perspective of an older Frances Robinson (she would have only been eight at the time of the trial) who not only falls in love with Scopes but also is intimately involved behind the scenes, carrying on conversations with Mencken and intervening to end a plot to lynch him. Potentially thorny conflicts between faith and science are deftly handled: Frances, after questioning her lifelong religious beliefs, reconciles them with the theory of evolution by imaging the world still created by God but over seven long periods—she also, when things aren't looking good for Johnny Scopes, says a silent courtroom prayer. Kidd is thus convincingly able to have it both ways, respectfully acknowledging both faith and science while keeping the line between them clear. Though the book rewrites a few bits of history to make its point, it's not the wholesale revisioning of Inherit the Wind, and the story is filled with authentic and lesser-known details. Frances' appeal as an accessible protagonist, combined with the nuanced treatment of a conflict still highly relevant today, make this novel an excellent bet to get heated discussion going. An author's note explains where the story deviates from the facts.