Daniel Keyes’ 1959 classic Flowers for Algernon was emotional to read at times, but I found myself captivated by the story of Charlie Gordon.
Charlie is born with a low IQ that leaves him mentally handicapped. As an adult, he works at a bakery as a janitor and takes adult learning classes with Miss Alice Kinnian. In the early part of the novel, Charlie’s intense interest in learning makes him the perfect candidate for an experiment at Beekman College.
At Beekman, they have tested an operation on Algernon the mouse and watched his intelligence increase drastically. They perform the same operation on Charlie. Readers have a front row seat to the results of this experiment as typo-ridden pages turn into eloquent journal entries, all written by Charlie.
Charlie’s IQ score rises exponentially, and he struggles with the contrast between his emotional maturity and intelligence. He is able to look back on his life before the operation and recognize painful truths he was blind to before, and at times the content is upsetting. Being smarter does not automatically make Charlie feel loved, and learning this truth is painful and unsettling for him.
The real test of the operation is time: how long will Charlie’s IQ continue to rise? Is it a permanent change? What will he discover? And of course – how does Algernon fare? Keyes explores all of these questions in a way that kept me turning every last page. By the end, I could not see Charlie as a character – I could only see Charlie as a human.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 324 pages
Recommended for: Those interested in humanity and psychology – how we relate to others, how we process others’ perceptions of us, and how our families can affect us throughout our lives.
Up next: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman