Title: Flowers for Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
Published: May 1st 2015 (o: 1958)
With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance--until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
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I tend to avoid tear-jerker books so I held off from reading Flowers for Algernon for years. But now that I'm specifically looking for books that will make me cry and because I've just finished reading Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything which basically was my final trigger, on one hand, this was a disappointment. However, on the other, Flowers for Algernon brings a story that's unlike any other and in that regard, this was anything but a disappointment.
Charlie Gordon is a 32-year-old with an IQ of 68. He may not be smart, but he's very hard-working and he has the passion to become smart. As the story is told from Charlie's POV through his progress reports, the readers' knowledge of Charlie's origin as well as everything that happens around him are limited to Charlie's memories and his capacity to understand his surroundings which are all very limited. These will eventually come to light however as Charlie's IQ increases and then when it happens, it will be a major heartbreak for the readers!!
The prospect of Charlie becoming more intelligent was at first incredibly nerve-racking. I wasn't sure if the surgery would be a success but nevertheless, I was hoping that he would achieve his dream of becoming smart. But then when it finally happened, I became unsure of it. The price he had to pay for his dream was too much for poor Charlie. It reminds of that episode of Spongebob Squarepants (I am sincerely sorry for using Spongebob as an example here) where Patrick was asked what his secret to being always happy was and he answered with "because I am incredibly stupid," and it holds truth. Ignorance is a bliss. But if faced with the choices: to be smart and become aware of how rotten the world is or be stupid and live in bliss, what would one choose?
On a whole other note, readers have been saying that Flowers of Algernon made them cry several times. In Everything, Everything, the lead character mentioned that she has never not cried reading the book no matter how times she read it, but the closest I got to crying was when Charlie met his mother and sister again, and the ending. If this were told from several POVs though, it probably would've had more impact on me especially during the last part when Charlie's situation came full circle. It was extremely frustrating, to say the least, because Charlie went through all of that only to go back where he started, however it was inarguably a valid outcome.
Also, I liked the science aspect of it. Rapid progression of the IQ resulting to rapid deterioration of the brain-- it was essentially an aggressive form of dementia. I've little knowledge about dementia, but I've read articles about it before, so not to be pretentious or anything, but I feel like I understand Charlie's attitude in the last part. I wanted to scream at Alice and Mrs. Mooney that his behavior was more likely caused by the degeneration of his brain and that they shouldn't give up on him. It's why it's also frustrating that this is only told in Charlie's perspective because I would also love to know what the people around Charlie thought of him.
If anything, I'd really like to take a peek at the paper Strauss and Nemur wrote up. All in all, I think Flowers of Algernon is an insightful read to autism and dementia. I didn't get what I wanted from this book (read: a river of tears), but I got other things that are equally or not more satisfying. Needless to say, Flowers of Algernon is a gripping novel that's worth a read.
Rating: 4 Fairy Wings