Apr 2, 2010

Nostalgic Friday: Flowers for Algernon

Welcome back to Nostalgic Friday! Since I love all things historical (culturally, physically, and personally) I do a post on Fridays honoring some awesome book that is a bit older. Many of them are books I enjoyed in my teens and others are books that I discovered as an adult that I think are relevant to YA readers.

This week's selection is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, which was originally published in short story format in 1959. It was turned into a book in 1966. I remember reading this in 7th grade and loving it because of the moral of the story. Be careful what you wish for, because you might not like it when you get it.

Charlie Gordon is a mental handicapped adult (IQ of 68) who works a menial job. Not completely content with his lot in life, Charlie takes reading and writing classes at the local institution for retarded adults. As he improves, his teacher recommends that he be a candidate in an experimental surgery to improve mental function. The surgery has been proven a success on a small scale with the increased intelligence of the mouse Algernon.

After the surgery and recovery, Charlie's IQ sky rockets to 185 and he begins to experience the world in a way he never has before. Unfortunately, it's not what he wants. Almost none of his experiences are positive as he had grown up understanding and interacting with the world one way and now that system no longer works for him. He can't relate nearly as well to other people or they to him.

Soon thereafter, Algernon begins to reject the operation and after reverting back to his former intelligence, he dies. Charlie realizes that this is where he is headed and scrambles to try to repair the damage he has caused.

While the subject matter is more serious and a little more sad than usual, I find that this book still has purpose. Some of the language has changed and become outdated, which isn't unusual for a book approximately 40 years old, but I found the symbolism and truth refreshing. When so many YA books exist in fantasy realms or deal with very saucy material, I sometimes want to retreat into these more adult-ish novels.

I found myself sympathizing with Charlie because I could understand his feeling of alienation and worthlessness. While I have never been mental handicapped, one kind of gets the same feeling as a tween/teen. There's self-doubt, worry, bullying, and the determination to overcome obstacles. I felt like I really understood Charlie which made all the difference in how I related to him as a character. The story was quite plausible, especially when taking the time period into context, and the adverse reaction was logically expected.

While it's not a light, fun read, I find that it still has merit when I want something to ponder. What are you thoughts? Too heavy or a refreshing change? Thanks for stopping by!

1 comment:

The Book Mole said...

I have always wanted to read this - thanks for the nice review.

I also have a couple of awards for you at: