Reaping the Whirlwind is an inspired historical mystery novel for students (and adults) who appreciate seeing history come alive. This suspenseful account is based on the 1925 trial of John Scopes (Tennessee
vs. John Thomas Scopes), who was accused of teaching evolution to his high school students shortly after a law was enacted that prohibited such instruction. Using a blend of true and fictional characters, Rosey Dow weaves the intricate and fascinating tale of the events that led up to and included the sensational trial of the century. Also included with my review material was a CD containing very useful student and teacher study guides by Michele T. Huey.
Before the story even starts, the "Author's Note" neatly lays the groundwork, presents the numerous real and made-up characters, and explains that the courtroom dialogue was based on trial records. I found myself referring to that section several times during the book as the intricacies increased. Dayton, Tennessee, comes to life with colorful characters who are described mostly through the eyes of Trent Tyson, a fictional deputy sheriff new to the small town. There are suspicious deaths, curious topics of gossip, and a brewing controversy as the drama builds. By the time the trial starts amid a carnival-like atmosphere akin to present-day high-profile legal proceedings, it's hard not to skip ahead to read the final outcome!
The study guides are very thorough, starting with resources the student can use to get background information on the Scopes Trial before reading the book. There is a character identification section so that the student can figure out and jot down "who's who" as he or she is reading. The story questions are conveniently grouped for every three chapters. The questions are wide ranging, including vocabulary, simple reading comprehension, and more challenging questions that ask the students to draw their own conclusions. There are also suggestions for additional activities, such as essay questions and book reports, re-enacting the trial, learning more about due process, and researching "what came next."
This fully indexed book and its accompanying study guides are aimed at middle to high school students and above. The book could simply be used as a semester of literature or as part of a unit study--history, government, and religion all fit easily into this one book. Alone, the book is a good read for pleasure or for independent learning by students and adults alike.
Pros: Frankly, I was unaware of this famous trial in history. However, I was delighted to learn about it in a way that will make it easier to remember, appreciate, and discuss. As a homeschool parent, I am pleased to be able to offer it to my children. In fact, my 12-year old daughter read it so that I could benefit from her observations to make this review more complete. She reads voraciously, as I do when I have time, so her opinion is valid and important to me. She appreciated the descriptive writing and said that the book made her think about life in general. And specifically, as a Christian, she realized that there are many, many people who need to know the real story about God, that evolution isn't correct. Her bottom line was that she was "glad to be homeschooled" and she was glad that Tyson became a Christian.
Cons: I am glad I had my daughter read the book. I wasn't sure how well it would translate for a student her age, but apparently it did. Her only negative comments were that she was sad that there were three deaths in the book and that during the trial it was hard to keep up with what was happening. However, she understood it at the end as a result of using the study guide.
Reaping the Whirlwind is the perfect name for this book because at the end of the whirly, swirly tale, the reader is left reaping the truth of the trial. But the reader also realizes that scientific theories must not be blindly accepted as fact.