Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

So… this was different. I picked it up because I heard that it was recommended reading for sci-fi fans, and that it was on some school reading lists. Basically the book is about Charlie, a slow 30-year old with an I.Q. of 68. Because he shows a lot of motivation and a strong desire to learn, he’s chosen to be the first human for an experimental surgery that could potentially increase his intelligence. The surgery went really well for a lab mouse named Algernon, and now it’s Charlie’s chance. The surgery is considered a success and Charlie’s intellingence significantly increases, even past that of the scientists that did it to him. But when Algernon starts to show signs of regression, Charlie has to figure out if he’s about to lose all that he gained.

This was really interesting. In the beginning, Charlie’s writing is misspelled and full of bad grammer, so as the book goes on and all that changes and you can almost “see” him getting more intelligent. The rate that he learns at is incredible – he learns new languages, and becomes a genius. It’s not all great though – as he gets smarter, he realizes how mistreated he was when he was too slow to understand. The people that he thought of as friends were actually really mena to him, always making fun of him and laughing at him. He also almost develops a split personality, so that he actually feels like the old Charlie is watching and waiting to come back.

Even as a genius, he has emotional problems that make this overall a sad book. Whether he’s unusually slow or crazy intelligent, he’s kind of a tragic character. It definitely makes you think about all of the mentally ill people that you see in the world though, and how sad their lives are.

I definitely recommend this book for middle school or high school students (there’s some sex in the book, but nothing really graphic). I think kids have the most to gain from this book, because kids tend to be mean to each other, and I know that a lot of kids pick on the child with mental disabilities if there’s one in their school or in their neighborhood. Maybe this book would help kids see that these slow kids are people too, and see how cruel it would be to make fun of them. It also make students appreciate that they have SO much potential to learn, and it shouldn’t be wasted because some people never have that chance.

Sarah Says: 3 stars

P.S. – The only thing that makes this a “sci-fi” book is the experimental brain surgery that makes people smarter. Otherwise, and book is just like the world now, except in the 1960’s because that’s when it was written.

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  1. The writing reflecting Charlie's progress is a great idea. I agree, kids could benefit from reading this book. I must add it to my to-read list myself. Great review!


  2. It definitely makes you think about all of the mentally ill people that you see in the world though, and how sad their lives are.I would really challenge this statement. While I agree that the book raises awareness about cognitive impairment and may open readers' eyes to observing individuals that may otherwise be ignored, unfairly stared at, or avoided; I think the only sad thing about the lives of people living with mental disabilities is the cruelty and insensitivity from others. I think many people that are mentally disabled live full and enriching lives with the same happiness and joy available to any human being. (Hope this comment didn't come across as preachy or snarky, but one of my good friends is a teacher of students with special needs and it's an issue that's close to my heart. A couple grammar things too – It's considered in better taste to put the noun in front of the description too – rather than "retarded child" to say "child with mental retardation" – as a way to humanize people with such disabilities and see them first as a person rather than a problem. Also, mental illness and mental disability are not quite the same thing.)


  3. I remember reading this back in middle school and enjoying it. I don't know if I'd think it's as good now as I did back then but I think my reaction to genius Charlie would probably improve, since I thought of him as an ass when he was smart.I'm kind of surprised this is recommended reading for sci-fi fans. I guess the surgery is kind of sci-fi-esque but otherwise I don't really know what about this book would appeal to sci-fi fans more than other fans. I know you kind of wonder the same thing in your PS so at least I know I'm not just missing something.


  4. I loved this book so much… Cried at the end and everything. I know what you mean about it not being sci-fi though- I think it focuses a lot more on psychology and emotion and things rather than sci-fi, but what I liked most about it was the emotional side of things- how, even though he got so much more intelligent, his emotions couldn’t really catch up with him, and how emotional intelligence is different, and maybe more important for happiness than non-emotional intelligence. All I wanted in the book was for Charlie to be happy! But alas, it was not to be…


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