There are certain books that, no matter your background, opinions or where you are in life, will change the way you look at the world. These books are few and far between, but they stay with you forever. Flowers for Algernon is one such novel.
A heartbreaking story told from the perspective of a mentally disabled man, this book follows Charlie Gordon, a middle-aged man with a low IQ and a strong desire to better himself. He is chosen as the subject of an experimental surgery to raise his intelligence. As a result, Charlie’s IQ rises – until it surpasses those around him. While delighting in his newfound intelligence, Charlie also realizes the cruelty of reality, which his handicap prevented him from seeing. Then his doctors find a complication with the surgery that may result in him returning to his original IQ. Charlie faces losing everything: his intelligence, his understanding, and the relationships he developed.
Author Daniel Keyes creates a unique perspective by writing this novel in the form of Charlie’s journal entries. At the start of the novel, Keyes gives readers a sense of Charlie’s limitations with simple vocabulary and frequent spelling mistakes. Through Keyes’ word choices, spelling, and the increasing depth of these entries, we witness subtle shifts as his IQ rises. The changes in the quality of Charlie’s writing presents his story in an engaging, emotional way. In the end, as Charlie looks back on his heart-wrenching experience, we, as readers, feel his regret and anger.
Charlie’s story is ultimately a tragedy – a loss of innocence, hope, and trust. Flowers for Algernon is an unforgettable novel that teaches many of life’s harsh lessons and shows us the world from an utterly unique perspective.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.