Title: Flowers for Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World
Publication Date: March 1966
Source: won in a giveaway from giraffedays.com
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
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?
As promised, today I am reviewing Flowers for Algernon in honor of Banned Book Week! Sheila over at Book Journey hosts a Banned Book Week event each year, and last year it was one of the first blog "events" that I participated in after I opened up shop here. I loved reviewing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey last year, and I knew I wanted to jump on the "banned" wagon again this time around.
Lucky for me, I won a giveaway from Shannon @ Giraffe Days during last year's celebrations, and I got a copy of Flowers for Algernon as a result. So what better time to put it to use??
Anyway: the book. The one word that kept ringing in my head as I read it was "heartbreaking". Even in Charlie's happiest of times, I was filled with sadness either by the way others were treating him, or by the dread of what I knew was to come. Much of the emotional nature of this novel is a direct result of the perspective that is used. The entire story is told through Charlie's personal diary entries, so you get the full effect of his intellectual and emotional changes throughout the novel.
It feels overly obvious for me to point this out, but the book is also heartbreaking in the way that it illustrates the treatment of people who are mentally disabled. Charlie begins the novel with an IQ of 70, before skyrocketing upwards on the intelligence scales, past even what his doctors had predicted. This may sound wonderful for him, but in addition to all of the book-learning he gains, he also begins to see that the seemingly innocent or funny actions of his "friends" in the past were really jokes at his expense. In a world where bullying is such a hot topic in schools, I can think of no better novel that could make an adolescent think through their hurtful words before doling them out.
Why is this book important to read, even though it's one of the top 100 banned books (according to the ALA)? Many of the attempted bans on Flowers for Algernon are based around its sexual content. Charlie's intellectual advances don't automatically equate to emotional advances, so as he gets smarter, he also finds that he has a whole world of sexual desires to attempt to understand. There are several scenes that handle this topic, but I would hardly call them "filthy and immoral" (as some protesters have done). Instead, they highlight one of the central themes of the novel: that emotional and IQ intelligence are not the same thing, and that different capacities are needed in order to reach happiness in each area. Without these scenes, Charlie's character would be incomplete, and the full impact of the novel would never be felt.
You want happy and uplifting? Flowers for Algernon is not for you. But if you want an emotional read with a unique perspective that is sure to tug at your heart strings, you need to jump into Charlie's story ASAP.