Monday, June 10, 2013

{Thoughts On} Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Title: Ella Minnow Pea
Author: Mark Dunn
Pages: 208
Publisher: Anchor Books, a division of Random House
Published: 2001

I've had this one on my shelves for years after having gotten it at the request of my bookish BFF Tamara. She loved it and thought I would too. I've picked it up and put it back down several times because the language takes a bit of getting used to. It's fancy and sounds old fashioned somehow. And it's told in letters. Not my favorite way of story telling, I must admit.

Ella Minnow Pea lives on the fictional island of Nollop, off the coast of North Carolina. This island is name after Nevin Nollop, the inventor of the pangram sentence The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

On the Island Nollop they refer to themselves as Nollopians. So yeah, I kept picturing these:

I digress. 

The pangram sentence is glued in large tiles in the town center. When one of the tiles fall, the High Island Council says that this is a sign from the late Mr. Nollop that the islanders should no longer use that letter. Punishment is doled out if residents say or write with the forbidden letters. As each of the titles fall, they have to get by with fewer and fewer letters.

I found the book easier to read the more letters were forbidden. What started out as flowerly, lyrically speech, turned into something much different. The story is mostly told through letters back and forth between Ella and her cousin Tassie.

The punishments, including banishment from the island, get the attention of the newspapers in the States and a journalist comes to stay with Tassie and her mom. They begin a movement to prove that the tiles are falling off because the glue is 100 years old and not because Nollop is speaking from beyond his grave. The Council finally agrees that if someone can come up with another pangram sentence they will remove all the restrictions.

It was an interesting concept and considering that it had to be written with fewer and fewer letters as it progressed, I am most impressed. The characters were easy to like and felt believable. The story's outlandishness just made it all the more fun. The fictional island was a wonderful setting that really became a character of the story too.

I'd recommend it to word lovers. It's amazing how many words would be unusable if certain letters were no longer available for use.

4 stars out of 5 for holding my interest throughout and for making me think.


  1. I read this one a while back and enjoyed it. It was such a clever little satire, and I found myself consistently comparing it to goings-on in everyday politics. Like you, I loved that the setting really became a character of its own. Good stuff!

    1. He did such an excellent job writing it. I'm looking forward to trying more of his books. I wasn't sure about it to begin with and like I said, I've had it on my shelves for years but my friend Tamara loved it so much that I finally just made myself start it.

    2. Well good for Tamara for loving it and making you read it. Heather from Capricious Reader does that to me regularly. I haven't paid much attention to his other books. Let me know what you decide to tackle next!

    3. She did a good job recommending. We almost always had the same reaction to books. I'll have to see what else he has out. Maybe we could do a read a long together.

    4. When we aren't swamped with review copies we really need to do that. I love read a longs!


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