Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence. It infuriated me to remember that not too long ago I – like this boy – had foolishly played the clown.

And I had almost forgotten.

It’s been a long time since a book has sucker punched me in the stomach both intellectually and emotionally. Flowers for Algernon is Charlie Gordon’s journal: he begins as a mentally disabled adult, but after a procedure designed to increase his intellect, his brainpower beats even those who created the experiment to change him. His transformation from mentally retarded to extraordinary genius models that of Algernon, a mouse given the same treatment. However, when Algernon starts to decline, Charlie realizes that he might follow in his footsteps.

Flowers for Algernon could have felt gimmicky, but Daniel Keyes pulls off Charlie’s voice with an amazing attention to detail and character development. I felt so much sympathy as he grew more aware of himself. Even as his smartness enlarged, he was alienated all the same. One of the best parts of this novel is how Keyes makes Charlie so flawed in every stage of the story – from ignorant to arrogant, from helpless to hurtful – and still captures his humanity in a way that makes us ache for him.

Part of me expected this book to appeal only to my intellect, but it reached me on an emotional level too. Flowers for Algernon asks difficult questions: why do we treat mentally disabled people so horribly? How does intelligence set us apart from our peers, both in good ways and bad? How does compassion factor into the human experience, and what makes us human? You can’t help but contemplate these topics as you witness Charlie struggling to address them through his progress reports. It makes me happy to see scientists and psychologists devoting their efforts to these issues nowadays, focusing more on ethics and emotional intelligence than they did before. Still, as Flowers for Algernon so poignantly points out, we have a long way to go, and Keyes deserves all of his accolades for pushing us in the right direction.

Highly recommended for fans of literary or science fiction, as well as to those who are interested in any of the questions I listed above. A finely-crafted, thought-provoking book.

*you can also check out my review of Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg here, if you wish

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22 Comments

Filed under 4 stars, Book Reviews, Books

22 responses to “Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

  1. This book sounds fascinating, I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it. It was brilliant and amazing and definitely offers a unique, yet important, perspective.

  3. I really enjoyed this book as well. I loved how the writing style changed as he became more intelligent and then regressed once more. Such a thought-provoking novel. Great review! :)

    • Yes, his writing style made the concepts and themes in the book much more believable and thought-provoking. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. Okay, um, that’s weird timing. My post this week was about Flowers for Algernon, too . . . http://journeythrough365photos.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/flowers-for-algernon/

  5. We read this one in high school (over twenty-years-ago) and I think that I should reread it now. Maybe with “Of Mice and Men.” Your writing is good.

    • Yes, perhaps! The two would make an interesting combination – completely different settings, but some similar themes in regard to the characters. Thank you for the compliment as well as for reading and commenting. (:

  6. *adds this book to her to-read list* Excellent review!

  7. Oooh, adding this to my wishlist!

  8. I was made to read the short story version of Flowers to Algernon (I found out later that it had been expanded into a novel, but I’m kind of in love with the short story how it is, so I’m not sure if I will read it or not…), and it was the only thing we read for English during the school year that actually got me in the heart and made me really think.

    Also, that ending killed me. KILLED ME! I cried in front of everyone. Wonderful review, Thomas!

    • I’m curious about the short story version, now – I’m glad that it affected you so much and made you think as well. Also, yes to the ending containing so much emotional strength; it’s wonderful that it still possessed power in short story form. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  9. I LOVE this book. I read it in high school and when our class finished it we collectively watched the film version. I felt the same ‘sucker punch’ that you mentioned when I finished each. To this day, I have never re-watched the film or reread the book because I remember them making me feel very sad for Charlie. But as you point out there are bigger messages here about society and how we treat others. Thank you for reminding me of that. Spectacular review. I will be reading more of yours. :-)

    • Glad that you enjoyed the film and the book and that you draw emotion from both! It’s great when a story is able to hook us in at a character level and also inspire us to contemplate deeper questions pertaining to society and our treatment of others. Thank you for reading and commenting. (:

  10. Waah. This story is so good.

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