Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

(Cover picture courtesy of Paperback Fool.)

Charlie Gordon is about to embark upon an unprecedented journey.  Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence—a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon.

As the treatment takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis.  The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon suddenly deteriorates.  will the same happen to Charlie?

“That’s the mark of a good book: you laugh, you cry, you have a good time.”  —My mother

If my mother is right (and I’m pretty sure she is), then Flowers for Algernon is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  True, I may be a bit biased because the topic hits really close to home, but Daniel Keyes’ novel is brilliant.

Charlie Gordon is anything but a cardboard cutout because he changes so much throughout the novel.  Since it is told in journal form, we see him at the beginning with his poor spelling and grammar, then watch as his writing style gets much better as the surgery works.  We really feel his triumphs, his struggles, his frustration and his loneliness, especially when his intelligence is at its peak.  As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top and Daniel Keyes has perfectly explained how lonely truly intelligent people are.

This is not a book that’s meant to be read because of the fast-paced plot, so don’t read this and expect to read a thriller.  Flowers for Algernon is a book you read for the meaning, and to be quite honest, it can mean many different things to many different people.  For me, the message is that higher intelligence comes with a price—the ability to relate to your peers.  For others, it could be a cautionary tale about what happens when man interferes with God’s work through science.  It could also be seen as a commentary on intelligence-based discrimination, both for people of high and low IQ.  Each time I read Flowers for Algernon, I find new things that I never noticed before.  Now that is the mark of a good book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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  1. turnthrice

    Ahhhh I’m so glad to see you did a review on this book! it is one of my all time favourites! I thought the journal narration suited the story perfectly and really made me feel a close connection with Charlie. I could feel myself slipping away as the plot progressed past Charlie’s epiphany (I’m having a hard time typing without spoilers! Hehe)

      • turnthrice

        I can’t understand why people wouldn’t like it either, but to each his/her own. I feel that this is a great book for opening up conversation about issues regarding mental health and disabilities, which often get neglected in discussions of healthcare.

        • Carrie Slager

          That’s very true. When I read this book in school, I wrote a very lengthy essay on the history of discrimination of people with low IQs. Some of the treatment they’ve been subjected to is absolutely shocking. I’m glad that Flowers for Algernon opens up a sort of dialogue for discussing these kinds of problems.

  2. Pingback: Daniel Keyes – Flowers for Algernon | Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book Reviews
  3. jbw0123

    I read Flowers for Algernon many, many years ago, and it has stuck with me. Not only did it spark thoughts about treatment of the disabled, but also with the idea that intelligence is not necessarily permanent, that an educated society can go backwards. Fun to find your blog. Happy reading in 2013!

    • Carrie Slager

      I never thought of it that way, actually. But you’re absolutely correct; intelligence may not necessarily be permanent and history has proven that educated societies can go backwards. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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