Friday, October 10, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

Summary: 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.
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My ReviewPangram (pan’ grem –gram), n. a phrase, sentence or verse composed of all the letters of the alphabet.  (e.g. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.)

Ella Minnow Pea lives with her mother and father on the quaint but fictional island nation of Nollop, just off the coast of the United States.  Nollopian residents are veritable word smiths, masters of the English language who revere Nevin Nollop, the national icon who composed the sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  His immortal effigy (and the tiled plaque of his prestigious pangram) resides in the town square, as a testament to the islanders’ admiration and commitment to etymological excellence.  

When a terrible storm blows off the Z tile, the Nollopian High Council interprets the fall as a manifestation of The Great Nollop’s will that the letter be stricken from their spoken and written language.  The new law has far reaching ramifications; nearly all books are banished and those who flout the new prohibition are subject to public humiliation, flogging, banishment, or worse.  Resourceful townsfolk find new ways to communicate in writing, but as more letters fall and their useable alphabet diminishes, their words become stilted and tongues tied with fear.  As violations abound and their hope dwindles, a clandestine journalist from the mainland travels to Nollop and brings with him an idea that might save their beloved language and topple Nevin Nollop from his proverbial pedestal.

At first glance, Ella Minnow Pea seems like a typical novel, but quickly transforms into a story of staggering genius – one that can be read for sheer entertainment or as a light-hearted commentary on censorship, freedom of expression, and absolutism.  Written in a way that is both humorous and unique, this epistolary tale is made infinitely more impressive by one small detail:  As the letters drop from the sign and are stricken from society, they are dropped from the book as well.  The letter Z isn’t essential, but the loss of D is isastrous, and the letters just keep falling.  Towards the end, I was slack jawed with amazement at the author’s ingenuity and filled with an even greater appreciation for the complexities of the my own language.   The end result is marvelously creative feat of linguistics and a delightful tribute to the English language that is sure to thrill intellectuals and overly tired book bloggers in equal measure.    .

My rating: 5 Stars (fabulous! I'll be recommending this to people in the grocery store)
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I think that this book would go over many a young adult's head, but there is nothing in it that would keep me from letting one of them read it.
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Sum it up:  N umzn n funtustk buk (written w/ 8 consonants and one vowel)

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