Ella Minnow Pea
By Mark Dunn
The last book I read that made me keep a dictionary app handy was The Frog King by Adam Davies. But Ella Minnow Pea takes language to a whole new level, and it’s so much fun! To put it simply, I adore this book.
In a fictional country called Nollop, a people live by and venerate a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The sentence is beloved because it utilizes every letter of the English alphabet with only a few repeats. There’s even a statue showcasing the sentence in the center of the Nollopian town. But when the letters begin to fall off the statue, the people are led to believe it’s Nollop himself (the creator of the sentence) telling them to purge any fallen letters from their lexicon. What!?
You read that right! But the best part of the book is its epistolary nature. Because of this, as letters are banned from use, so too must the author stop using them in the story. By the end of the book, the people of Nollop are left with only five letters to communicate. Not possible, right? Actually, yeah, pretty impossible. Language is forced to break its known uses and rules in Ella Minnow Pea, and I am here for it! Parts of the book are genuinely harder to read because of the creativity the Nollopians are forced to use to even speak!
And the story is good too. Ella Minnow Pea, at its heart, is a commentary on the dangers of totalitarianism and censorship, and I like the book even more for it. I believe Dunn was smart to use language to make his point. When you really think about it, Ella Minnow Pea’s premise is absolutely ridiculous. Who in their right mind would ban letters from use in speech and writing just because they fell off a statue? No one! And that’s why the premise is such a good one for the subject matter. Dunn uses real-world totalitarianism tactics in Ella Minnow Pea but always adjacent to situations (I’d say) any logically-thinking person would stop and say, “Excuse me, they’re doing what???”
In total (hehe,) I loved Ella Minnow Pea. I’m keeping this little book forever, and I’m so, so glad I found that random internet post talking a little bit about the plot. Thank you, random internet user. You found a new fan for the book you love too.