Ella Minnow Pea

By: Mark Dunn

Review By: Alex Frank

Pangram- a sentence or phrase that includes all of the letters of the alphabet

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” A pangram that founded an entire society.

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel (a novel written entirely of correspondences between characters) that focuses on the story of a young girl, Ella, on an imaginary island called Nollop. Nevin Nollop was an author that founded the pangram above. This small community of word-loving islanders considers his sentence a literary triumph because it contains every alphabetic character while also formulating a complete sentence of grammatical correctness in the least amount of repeated characters possible.

(Wow that was a mouthful. Short version- he did what no one else had done before in the world’s literary history. He made a pangram in 35 characters. In essence, that’s a small amount).

The islanders are members of a peaceful society that runs on a strict set of rules and expectations. Despite their eversion to computers, the community is happy with the simple pleasures in life such as writing letters to one another and reading books.

All seems well in the small society until the esteemed pangram begins to fall to pieces from the cherished statue of Nollop. The island council that reigns supreme decides Nollop’s ghost is sending the islander’s a message, and whatever characters fall from the statue become banned from written and spoken communication. At first this isn’t too difficult with the absence of letters such as “Z” and “Q,” but things get complicated when vowels crumble.

The Nollop police sift and search through every letter sent between islanders to enforce a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. Out being literal. People begin to be kicked off of the island.

Ella pleads with the council to stop the madness, and the counsel members respond in kind by issuing a challenge. Whoever can create a pangram shorter than Nollop’s, yet still grammatically correct and using no proper nouns, will prove that Nollop is in fact not a literary genius.

Though this task sounds simple enough, the islanders soon find beating Nollop is harder than it seems, and time begins to run out. The race is on.

Funny, clever, and charming, Ella Minnow Pea takes a stance on the classic issue of censorship. What does a society do when the government tells its people that they can’t use the words they want? They outsmart the government by finding ways around the rules.

I will admit that I read this book for an English class and not of my own volition, however, I thoroughly enjoyed it. More than most. Many found this book to just be yet another statement on the already sung issues of a totalitarian government controlling its people. While this point is very true and I can hardly argue against it, I feel this book bridges this issue in a different way.

Humor can sometimes more easily explain a tough issue and help shed new light on a perspective not previously recognized. Straight and brutal honesty or frankness can sometimes rub people the wrong way. Some readers just want to ponder an idea, not be fired up by it.

Is a society of technology-shunning, letter-writing, pangram-worshiping people far out in fiction? Yes.

Is it a little silly? Yes it is, and I found it really enjoyable anyway.

To all you word-loving geeks out there. I salute you!

Overall Rating: 4

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