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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn Book Review

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Genre(s): Fable, Fiction, Epistolary novel

Ella Minnow Pea is a novel told in letters. It boasts of great vocabulary and shows the power of words. It has the air of a book they’ll require kids to read in schools one day. I rather enjoyed it.

This story follows Ella Minnow Pea, 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 phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

One day, a letter falls off the memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. The island’s Council rules this as Nollop speaking from beyond the grave that they are no longer allowed to use this letter. If anyone speaks or writes a word containing this forbidden letter, they’ll get three strikes, with the last resulting in banishment from the island or death.

At the news of the first letter being banned from their vocabulary, Ella writes to her cousin, Tessie, that this won’t be a big deal, as the first letter they lost was Z, an uncommon letter.

Tessie writes back saying, “I am so fearful, Ella, as to where this might lead. A silly little letter, to be sure, but I believe its theft represents something quite large and oh so frighteningly ominous. For it stands to rob us of the freedom to communicate without any manner of fetter or harness.

And she was right. The Council starts burning beehives, tossing out most of the books in the public library, and closely monitoring they’re citizens for slip ups. At one point, they even whip nine year old twins for using the forbidden letters.

Ella and her friends see this for the absurdity it is. They begin to find a way to save their fellow citizens from the Council’s encroaching totalitarianism.

As each letter falls from the statue, they also disappear from the book. This results in a stunning use of vocabulary and a hilarious way of writing.

I have never read a novel as unique as this story. It was quirky, entertaining, and fast paced. Although at times it seemed a little out there, I think it’s part of what made this story fun.

One thing that was really cool is the fact Ella’s full name when spoken allowed sounds just like L M N O P , which also happens to be the last of the letters allowed to be used on the island.

I loved the dynamic of narration. It told the story efficiently and helped keep the story moving. We got to see how everything was happening from many characters own words. A genius way of writing.

Beyond that, this story was so beautiful. At one point, Tessie writes to Ella, “and yet, deep inside,” she tells me, “I am angry and rebellious.” “In my head,” she tells me, “I am reciting what I recall of my niece’s last letter, allowing all the illegal words to baste and crisp. I cook the words, serve them up, devour then greedily. In the sanctuary of my thoughts, I am a fearless renegade.” Before closing her letter with “Never stop writing.

In a later letter, we read, “There is no one great man. Only millions of men and women in possession of tiny pieces of greatness, which when put together, when assembled in the aggregate make the whole.”

I definitely think everyone should read this book at least once in their lifetime, if not for the beauty, but for the message. How powerful is our language, the importance of freedom of speech, and how quickly it can all be stripped away.

Today we queried, questioned, and inquired. Promise me that come tomorrow, we will not stop asking why.”

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