My literary gem that I want to share with you this month is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Termed “a novel in letters,” it’s a perfect book for sharing some literary love. This witty, insightful tale takes place on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. The island is named after Nevin Nollop, who is credited with crafting the shortest sentence to use all letters of the alphabet: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Once the letters of this pangram start to fall off the memorial statue of Nollop, the island’s Council takes it as a bad omen and bans their use. Therefore, as the letters fall from the statue, so they disappear from the novel. Ella Minnow Pea and her friends on Nollop now have to figure out how to save their sacred words in a totalitarian society where language reigns.
This book is short and sweet and is a linguistic delight that will leave you with a greater appreciation for words and the importance of language. Dunn chooses to use correspondences between the citizens of Nollop, the perfect epistolary format to showcase what’s happening in the story. In today’s age, where technology has often dumbed communication down, I love the beautiful, formal style of the letters between the Nollopians. Not only does it make for an interesting telling of the plot, but you get to see the personalities of the different characters and how they are affected throughout the story.
I thoroughly enjoy watching how the characters deal with the letters’ disappearing. You wonder how they will be able to communicate as each letter falls, but their determination, cleverness, and amazing vocabulary (there are some great SAT words in here) make it such a hilarious and entertaining read.
This book is a fun, linguistic puzzle, but at its core it’s a story that deals with censorship, resilience, self expression, and the beauty of language. I recommend it for your inner word-geek or if you’re in need of a light, literary treat.