Friday, January 7, 2011

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn

Summary: The island of Nollop is named after the famed inventor of the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which uses all 26 letters of the alphabet.  The academic-minded inhabitants of the island are proud of their heritage until a day when a tile of the letter "z" ominously falls from the monument celebrating Nollop's accomplishment.  Nollop's council decides the felled letter is a sign from Nollop himself and quickly outlaw the usage of the fallen letter in written and oral communication.  As more letters begin to fall, the Nollopians find themselves further constrained in their use of language, and more and more people slip up, despite the severe consequences, including expulsion from Nollop.  Written in letters between the island's inhabitants, Ella Minnow Pea follows Nollopians desperate to save their island from letter eradication.

Musings: Dunn has created a cute concept in Ella Minnow Pea.  The gradual eradication of letters could easily become tiresome, but Dunn keeps the book short enough to maintain the reader's interest.  It's fun to see the change from early letters, which have free use of the alphabet or have only eradicated lesser-used letters like "z," to the final letters, which are written in difficult-to-decipher phonetic-like spellings using the few letters left to the Nollopians.

The story, of course, is a bit silly, though the extremes to which the council goes to enforce the rules (whippings and even some deaths!) seem somewhat out of place in what should be a light-hearted book.  In a book dedicated primarily to a conceit, there's not a lot in the way of character development (several people all of a sudden fall in love) or even real plot.

Nonetheless, Ella Minnow Pea is a fun book for lovers of language.

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