Book Club Pick: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon

Title: Flowers for Algernon

Author: Daniel Keyes

Published: March 1966

Rating: ★★★

Summary: Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 70, but he’s always worked hard to try and be more than what his brain would allow him to be. His beloved teacher, Miss Kinnian, recommends him to participate in an experimental operation that has only been completed on a lab mouse to increase his IQ. Charlie keeps a journal of his progress throughout the lead-up to and the aftermath of the surgery.

Thoughts: This book seems to be loved. I was preparing to love it and to sob. I did not. In fact, I didn’t really like this book all that much. During Charlie’s journey, his personality changes quite a bit, which I’m sure is the point, but he turned into a bit of a jerk and I didn’t enjoy reading about him. It was sad at times, when he was starting to remember his childhood and seeing his parents and sister through a new lens. Ditto for when he starts to readjust his consideration on how his “friends” at the bakery treated him. In general, Charlie’s fog is lifted and he begins to see that the world hasn’t been all that kind to him. This was a sad portion of the book, but I also found it to be the most interesting and eye-opening. Beyond that portion of the book, I struggled to connect and care for Charlie. I also was expecting that I would grow attached to Algernon, the mouse, but was surprised that he wasn’t in the book all that much. There were aspects of Charlie’s awakening that I really didn’t care for, namely those of the sexual nature. I didn’t think those parts of the story added anything to the overall story, but rather took away from it and made me dislike Charlie even more.

I was impressed with how timeless this story was. When I was reading it, I was assuming it was written in the 90s, because that’s what GoodReads said that’s when the edition I was reading was published. When I looked a little further into the publication date, I realized the short story version of this was written in the 50s and the book-length version was released in the 60s. There are some politically incorrect terminologies used by professionals, and a few psychological techniques that seemed old-fashioned, but otherwise, this story could easily have been set in any time, modern or otherwise.

The moral of this book, however, was not lost on me. It gives the chance for you to explore what it would be like to change a key element of a person’s life, that which is something you might think the crux of difficulty in their life. In Charlie’s case, it’s his intelligence deficiencies. If only Charlie could be smarter, his life would be better. That’s the premise of the assumption. As you come to discover, becoming smarter makes Charlie go through a lot of pain as he realizes how alone he is, it isolates him when he becomes smarter than most people, and it fundamentally changes his personality and who he is. Becoming smarter did not make Charlie happier or improve his quality of life. I think this book is recommending you to accept yourself and others as you/they are, flaws and all, because to mess with the DNA of your personality, would change who you are and may not necessarily mean for the better. Sitting around imagining that grass is greener on the other side is fruitless and not always true.

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