Thursday, June 09, 2016

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon. Daniel Keyes. 1966. 311 pages. [Source: Library]

First, I have to say that I am definitely glad I made time to finally read this one! It has been on my to-be-read list for way too many years. And I don't regret the time I spent with Charlie Gordon.

The book is the journal of the main character, Charlie Gordon. The journal consists of his 'progress reports.' The novel opens with him about to become the subject of a scientific experiment. If it works, his IQ will improve dramatically, radically. His IQ is high enough now for him to function living on his own. (He does janitor work.) But his IQ isn't high enough for him to really learn how to read, write, remember. What he does have in abundance: a big, big, big heart, and an ambitious spirit dedicated to learning and becoming. He doesn't know what he's missing, but, he knows he's missing something. He has no real actual memories of who he was, of his family life, of his childhood. His low IQ isn't just "robbing" him of a bright future, but, of his past as well.

Even though I don't usually love first person narratives, in this case, it works really well. Charlies growth is documented in his progress reports. And readers should make the effort to read between the lines some. It isn't that Charlie is an unreliable narrator, just, that he isn't always completely self-aware. (Who is?!?!) Readers are given enough clues to decide for themselves what Charlie Gordon is like.

Will the experiment work? What are the side effects? Is Charlie being used or taken advantage of by the scientists? Did he make the right choice?

I can't decide what is the most heartbreaking about this bittersweet coming-of-age story. I think though that I'll go with the way Charlie was treated by his mother. Those scenes when Charlie remembers his childhood, his mother, his father, his sister, that is what is heartbreaking. The way his mother mistreated him, and Charlie's straight-forward, matter-of-fact remembering. The way it's done is not manipulative at all, in my opinion. But it's very emotional.

The scenes that may just stay with me though are the ones about Charlie standing up to the scientists saying YOU DIDN'T MAKE ME. I WAS A PERSON BEFORE. YOU SHOULD HAVE ALWAYS TREATED ME AS A PERSON, A PERSON WITH FEELINGS AND RIGHTS. YOU DIDN'T GIVE ME VALUE BY MAKING ME SMART, I ALWAYS WAS VALUABLE. YOU TREAT ME LIKE AN OBJECT. I'M NOT AN OBJECT OF YOUR MAKING.

So yes this one is worth reading!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

4 comments:

Kailana 2:43 PM  

I am so happy you liked this!!! It is honestly one of my favourite books ever. I originally read the play in school and loved that. A bit later I got an old battered copy of the novel and held on to that until I finally updated to a less battered copy a couple years ago. One of my goals for 2016 is to try out the audio. I honestly feel like even for being written in 1966... we can relate to this today. There's a movie. I don't think it went to theatres, though, and I have only got a chance to see it once. It was good, though. Captured the book really well. I don't think it is called Flowers for Algernon, though. I looked for it to buy once and no luck. This has inspired me to go check again!

Becky 3:11 PM  

I think it's called Charly. I haven't seen it, but, I did look on Amazon. There was also a made for television movie called Flowers for Algernon.

Mike 12:12 AM  

Thanks for this excellent review! I've heard of this book (and the movie Charlie), but have never read it. Your review has piqued my interest. I think I'll get it at my local library.

Susan @ Reading World 3:32 PM  

I read this for a classics challenge. What a wonderful book!

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