Saturday, March 13, 2010

REVIEW: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I picked up Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes on a whim. I'd gone into the sci-fi section of my library after reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card hoping to find one of sequels. Instead the glaring pink cover of (the copy of the library book I picked up of) Flowers For Algernon called to me. I remember in some class, high school maybe?, we'd looked at some extracts of the short story. Because it was a rather large extract, I'd always thought I'd read the whole story but it turns out that I didn't.

Either way, Flowers For Algernon was worth the time it took to read it. It was so sad and powerful. If you're not familiar with the story, I'll just briefly recap it: Charlie Gordon has an IQ of only 68 and works in a bakery doing menial jobs. He's approached by scientists at the local university who have been doing experiments on mice that increases intelligence. Charlie agrees to be the first human labrat, if you will. The novel is laid out in a series of progress reports written by Charlie leading up to the procedure and the months that follow.

But with the increase in intelligence comes other aspects that Charlie never expected. His eyes are open to the many mistreatments he has borne throughout his life, specifically by his friends and his family. Charlie goes for the idea of this operation in order to fit in with the people most important to him, to feel like he belongs and is able to hold a conversation with other people, as well as in that hopes that his mother will finally be proud of him. Instead, his super-intelligence leads him to be just as lonely and alone as he was before.

Flowers For Algernon really made me think. About the morality of research experiments in the name of science, the way in which the mentally disabled are treated, the relationship between intellectual and emotional development. It also made me feel. I didn't think of the book as being overly manipulative and I think it could have been. Charlie is a wonderful character and throughout he completely pulled at my heartstrings and made me care about him. I thought this book was brilliantly done and had me unable to put the book down. Even now, weeks after reading it, and I can't stop thinking of Charlie and Algernon...

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  1. I read Flowers for Algernon when I was twelve and I still feel slightly shaken when I remember it. It's done so effectively, the development and regression of Charlie's consciousness! The worst thing for me (I'm probably remembering this all wrong) was when Charlie knew that he was going to start losing mental function like Algernon did. When he was still clever enough to realize what was going to happen to him, and it hadn't started yet. I should reread this, though I'm afraid I will find it even more upsetting as an adult. :P

  2. It was in eighth grade that we read that. In Mr. Caron's class. I remember reading it.. sorta..

  3. Jenny - I agree completely, it was done so well. And it was so unbelievably sad. I can't imagine anyone reading it and not finding it upsetting.


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