Friday, December 31, 2010

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Reviewed by Liesl

Published: 2001

It's about: 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 phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, "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. On the first offense, any citizen who speaks or writes any word containing the forbidden letters will be publicly scolded by a member of the island Law Enforcement Brigade. On the second offense, the violators can choose between being flogged or a day in the stocks. Third offense, banishment from the island. Refusal to leave: death.

Ella so far manages to avoid using any forbidden letter, but her own family and friends do not. Soon the island begins to empty because of the restrictions on offensive language and letters. The only way she and the other islanders can stop the ludicrous regime of the Council is to come up with a new, shorter sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet.

I thought: Sweet Nollop, I have forgotten how to read. Correction: I have forgotten what it is like to read something so brainy, delicious and clever that my toes are curling constantly in delight.

This novel is told through letters, announcements, and notes. As letters progressively drop from the statue, so do letters in the novel. I read and reread pages to make sure they really did omit the forbidden letter, and was pleased to discover that they weren't. Whenever another letter dropped, the book updated on which letters were banned. Being the impatient type of reader, I'm always reading as fast as I can to find out the ending. This book strictly forbade that because I had to constantly go back over to see what small details I missed.

This book is ingenious in displaying the methods people go to avoid saying certain words. For instance, when the letter "D" was dropped, they began referring to God as "Heavenly Omnigreatness," although the High Council's insanity begins to worship Nollop instead. The book soon gets to a point where so many letters are missing, they have to either communicate in short, abrupt sentences (e.g. "Retreat is what we want. Go away. Let we alone.") or spelling things out phonetically: "I am alyph ant well. Please tont worry apowt me." My vocabulary certainly was built.

Ella's character fascinated me. Her ability to avoid using forbidden letters was great, but her determination to overcome the preposterous oppression against freedom of speech was even more admirable. She's smart, shows great love and loyalty for her parents, and is willing to help the others. I wished to know more about her and the people she interacted with, because the characterization was so entertaining. There isn't much in the way of character development, I'd say, but it's still a good read and I just love all of the characters so much. Definitely worth a read.

Verdict: Stick this beauty on the shelf. 

Reading Recommendations: To quote a reviewer from the back cover: "A love letter to alphabetarians and logomaniacs everywhere."

Warnings: None, unless you find the letter "z" offensive.

Favorite excerpts: When the letter "D" is omitted, the High Council recommends the days of the week be referred to as thus:
"For Sunday, please use Sunshine
For Monday, please use Monty
For Tuesday, please use Toes
For Wednesday, please use Wetty
For Thursday, please use Thurby
For Friday, please use Fribs
For Saturday, please use Satto-gatto"

"Dear Sister Gwennnettttte:
Robbed of two letters, I now choooooose to overuuuuuuse the twenty-four which remaaaaaain. I hope you and Amos are well. I haven't been feeeeeeeeeeling myself lately. Tassie worrrrrrrrrrries about me. Sheeee shouldn't. I will bounce back as I always do do do do do do do do do do do do.
Your Sister Mittieeeeeeeeeeeee"

What I'm reading next: Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock