Charlie Gordon is a man of low intelligence, living as best he can in New York City. His family had him committed to an institution, but a family friend got him out and gave him a job in his bakery. It is all Charlie really knows how to do, but he wants more. He goes to a class to try and learn how to read and ends up as an experimental test subject in which scientists believe they can improve human intelligence levels. The book is set up as a series of journal entries from Charlie as he undergoes the procedure, and all that comes after.
I had first read this years ago, and I was honestly nervous to read it again. I remembered clearly how this made me feel, and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go through that again. My three year old, however, was in charge of picking my next book, and told me that I had to read the book about “mouses”. He was right; it was time.
Spoilerish discussion to follow: I don’t know if I was ever going to be really ready for a heartbreak of this magnitude again though. I wanted to cry from the very beginning – reading his words, as misspelled and simple as they were; experiencing the cruelty he faced by the people he thought we friends. Even after the procedure, when I knew I was supposed to be over the moon for him, my heart still felt heavy for I already knew what was to come next. And when that happened, oh man. You are a dead cold stone if this doesn’t move you at the center core of your being. As I have been known to cry at television commercials, you can imagine the emotional mess I became. End of spoilery talk.
This is just a brilliant piece of writing, and even though it is very taxing emotionally and really quite intense – it is very much worth it. It is a prime example of effective word choices developing the sense of character for the reader. I hope that this book is still being taught in high schools, as there is so much that can be learned and discussed about writing, about history, about psychology, and about humanity in general.
Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes
Harcourt, 2004. First published 1959.
Source: Purchased Used
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