Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #17: Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial March 17, 2010

Since I had picked up Jen Bryant’s Trial at the same time, I decided to follow it up with her other courtroom-drama-verse-novel, Ringside, 1925.  This was Bryant’s treatment of the Scopes trial in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution.

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Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

Review

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008:
“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.

Product Description

The year is 1925, and the students of Dayton, Tennessee, are ready for a summer of fishing, swimming, some working, and drinking root beer floats at Robinson’s Drugstore. But when their science teacher, J. T. Scopes, is arrested for having taught Darwin’s theory of evolution in class, it seems it won’t be just any ordinary summer in Dayton.
As Scopes’ trial proceeds, the small town is faced with astonishing, nationwide publicity: reporters, lawyers, scientists, religious leaders, and tourists. But amidst the circus-like atmosphere is a threatening sense of tension–not only in the courtroom, but among even the strongest of friends. This compelling novel in poems chronicles a controversy with a profound impact on science and culture in America–and one that continues to this day.

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Strengths: This one had more meat to it than The Trial. It felt like Bryant fleshed this one out more.  There is a wide range of characters whose perspectives Bryant uses to tell the story, which I liked, as well as using different verse styles to create a unique voice for each character.

Potential Flaws: I still can’t help but think verse novels are somehow easier to write.  I kept thinking, “I could do this.”  In this case, I felt at times like Bryant wrote out a rather simple narrative and then broke it into verse.  Her variations are cosmetic: line length, page placement.  Nothing using rhyme or more structured verse, which I felt would have added some dimension.

My Rating:

As with The Trial, I was just not particularly excited about this one.  Comparably, it was better, but there was definitely room for improvement.

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What I’m Reading #16: The Trial March 16, 2010

I was looking for something light, so I  picked up Jen Bryant’s verse novel, The Trial. I have a somewhat morbid fascination for crimes of the century, so I figured Bryant’s take on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping would be a pretty good bet.

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The Trial by Jen Bryant

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Gr. 5-9. “Nothing much happens but eggs, chickens, and Santa Claus,” complains restless Katie Leigh Flynn about life in her small New Jersey town. But on March 1, 1932, something does happen–something sensational . . and tragic. The baby son of Colonel and Mrs. Charles Lindbergh is kidnapped in nearby Hopewell. Bruno Richard Hauptmann is arrested and put on trial for the crime–right there in Katie’s hometown–and the 12-year-old finds herself caught up in the case as assistant to her journalist uncle. Readers see the famous trial through Katie’s eyes as she records the events in unrhymed poems that have the terse rhythm of newspaper reports: “the sound of news / written down, sent out / on typewriters and telegraphs / from our little town.” Katie realizes that someday she wants to make “that very same sound.” Bryant does an extraordinary job of re-creating the Depression-era milieu during which the trial unfolded and, at the same time, conveying the gravity of an event that may have been a miscarriage of justice. As Katie says, “When a man’s on trial for his life / isn’t every word important?” Bryant shows why with art and humanity. Michael Cart
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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I’ve said before I’m not sure how I feel about verse novels.  I’ve yet to find one that I’m deeply moved by, or that I felt was really a shining example.

Strengths: Bryant definitely writes an accessible, non-sensationalist approach to the event and trial.  The child’s perspective of the trial is an interesting one.

Potential Flaws: This is probably a stylistic comment rather than a flaw.  I wanted more.  And although the narrator’s perspective was interesting, it just seemed a little remote.

My Rating:

I guess there wasn’t much to say.  I wasn’t overwhelmed, I wasn’t underwhelmed…  Is it possible to just be “whelmed?”  Not UNinteresting.  Just…fair.