Ella Minnow Pea
by Mark Dunn
Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.
*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)
Review: 5/5 ★★★★★
Wow. Has ever a more clever, original, lighthearted, hilarious novel been written? This book gave me such Lemony Snicket vibes and it was so much fun to read. I couldn’t stop once I started. I gawked, I laughed, I gasped, aaaand I want to reread it right now!
Content: 4.5/5 Amos, Ella’s dad, leaves a note for Ella’s mom saying he is leaving and he did not want to bother her because she was in the bath. He mentions how in a past time he might have barged in but he felt she wanted privacy. She later writes him a note back teasing that if she took a bath again later maybe he would follow through on his earlier idea to barge in. Suicide is briefly mentioned. Characters mention a side character who goes insane, paints all over herself with led paint, gets committed to the hospital, and passes away.
Our setting of Nollop Island was fantastic, and its origins—it was founded by the man who created the sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”—were thorough and detailed. Our characters were so much fun. I have had trouble with epistolary novels—novels written entirely in letters—in the past, because it can be hard to connect with characters. No such problem in Ella Minnow Pea! Though at the beginning I confused our two main characters, cousins Ella and Tassie, soon it worked itself out. I loved that so many other names and faces found their way in! And never once did it feel scattered; rather, they all worked together to tell the story, leaving me feeling like there was of course no other possible way to tell the story except through letters.
As the letters disappear from the page, I found the characters’ ability to adapt to being without a letter amazing; comparatively, though, what I found most amazing was the author’s incredible ease with the English language to communicate so clearly using so few letters. Also, I loved how the name of the days and months kept changing on the top of every letter (because slowly, losing letters that made former names possible)—I am not very observant, so I completely cracked up halfway through when I noticed instead of “Thursday” the date was indeed “Topsy Turvy.”
All in all, the English nerd in me could NOT get enough of this book. Whoa. I was giggling like a fool, espeically at the end as the characters try their hand at their own sentences. (I won’t say any more to save spoilers!) But…wow. If you like books and words and English, this is a MUST read! The language was beautiful, and stayed that way even as letters dropped out. The front of my copy says, “There’s a whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea,” but I would disagree—there’s much more than a whiff!
Now excuse me while I go attempt to write my own pangram. 😂