ELLA MINNOW PEA by Mark Dunn is a great novel on many levels. First of all, it's funny. Next, it's unusual. Then, it's witty and wise. It relates the story of one girl's fight for freedom of expression. You see, Ella is a girl that lives on the island of Nollop off the shoreline of the Palmetto State. The island is named after Nevin Nollop, a sort of deity on their lands, for he was the one who originated the immortal phrase "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."
There is a large statue of Mr. Nollop on the island with his immortal phrase written underneath. However, due to some faulty adhesive properties, the letters have started to fall off, shattering on the ground. The government is up in arms about what to do in regard to the falling letters. Is it Mr. Nollop's spirit dropping them? Is Mr. Nollop telling them something from the ether? The totalitarian government thinks it so, so every letter that drops is one less letter the natives are allowed to speak or even write. Goodness me! What are the residents to do now that the letter T has dropped off? And the Q? And the D? As the letters fall from the statue, they also fall away from the novel, leading the reader into a quirky tale that linguists will love and people with happy imaginations will delight in.
Dunn, a writer of startling inventiveness, has written something that perhaps will be around years later, delighting young and old. It is that good of a tale. The story itself is in letters, epistolary notes between residents on the island. The main protagonist (Ella Minnow Pea) is a uniting of letters, L, M, N, O, P. There are letters everywhere, strung together twixt this word and that. Sadly, the government of Nollop takes those letters away, snapping the ties that make, strung together, letters words, and words thoughts.
It leaves our dear Ella Minnow Pea to her own wiles, fighting for friends, family, and freedom.
If you mind your Ps and Qs, you'll find this story wondrous and something that you'll give your friends to read and then they'll give it to their friends.
Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 21, 2011
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters