Goodreads synopsis: Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set in the fictional island of Nollop situated off the coast of South Carolina and home to the inventor of the pangram The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog. Now deceased, the islanders have erected a monument to honor their hero, but one day a tile with the letter z falls from the statue. The leaders interpret the falling tile as a message from beyond the grave and the letter is banned from use. On an island where the residents pride themselves on their love of language, this is seen as a tragedy. They are still reeling from the shock, when another tile falls and then another…. Mark Dunn takes us on a journey against time through the eyes of Ella Minnow Pea and her family as they race to find another phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet to save them from being unable to communicate. Eventually, the only letters remaining are LMNOP, when Ella finally discovers the phrase that will save their language.
I will start by saying that I really struggled over what genre to label this as, because I felt like it was more than just Young Adult but it wasn’t quite fantasy. It’s set in the contemporary world but in a dystopian sort of society in the midst of our world. This is also my second 5 star review in a row, which is crazy.
I actually didn’t love this book at first. I was put off by the pedantic language, but eventually I got into the rhythm. And then I was totally sucked in. The long words made this book a mental workout (in a good way), but it was still a quick read. I rarely say this about books, but I wish it had gone on longer.
This is definitely not a character-driven novel, but the plot was so unique and interesting that it didn’t matter. I also don’t normally like books that are composed entirely of letters sent between characters, but this worked. It did bother me that the phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” can be shortened even further very easily, by changing one “the”, or both, to “a”. But the phrase with “the” in both places is famous, so I didn’t give this much thought. I really tore through this book because I was dying to know how they solved the issue. I thought it was so interesting because there was nothing physically stopping them from using the forbidden letters, no magic or anything, just the government. I knew some bad and interesting things would happen to major characters, and I was excited to find out what sorts of things could go wrong. I was not disappointed. I loved feeling the deterioration of the minds of the characters, a lot of them slowly going insane, figuratively and quite literally. It was like the opposite of character development, and it was awesome.
After reading some other reviews on Goodreads, I realize that it has satirical intentions about censorship and the power of the government, but I never really thought about it like that while I was reading it. I feel like there are two types of people who will read this, one for the letter puzzle and one for the satire. I was part of the letter puzzle group. But looking back, I can appreciate the messages Dunn was trying to send. I am always dying for books that are really different, and I love the magic of the letters of the alphabet, so this book was really perfect for me. That being said, it’s probably not for everyone, and I would understand if someone didn’t like it at all. Still, I say give it a try!