By Daniel Keyes
"all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb and my mom always tolld me to try and lern just like Miss Kinnian tells me but its very hard to be smart and even when I lern something in Miss Kinnians class at the school I ferget alot." - Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon
What's it about?: This novel revolves around Charlie Gordon, a developmentally delayed man selected to participate in a groundbreaking surgical procedure that would gradually raise his IQ to genius levels. Having always dreamed of one day getting smarter and making his mother and his reading teacher, Miss Kinnian, proud, Charlie eagerly goes along with it. His progress is tracked alongside Algernon, a lab mouse whose intelligence level was raised exponentially by the procedure. Soon Charlie begins to overtake Algernon in head to head tasks and eventually he reaches the elite intelligence level he desired. However, with his newly acquired knowledge and understanding of the world around him, he begins to discover that many of those whom he counted as friends had actually been laughing at him the whole time. As well, when remembering his childhood he realizes that he had been abused, and that his mother was ashamed of him. Charlie also holds strong romantic feelings for Miss Kinnian, but is afraid to confront them due to being under-developed emotionally. Resentful of being considered a lab experiment, Charlie retreats into loneliness with Algernon, where he discovers the one terrible flaw in the experiment that both he and the little white mouse participated in.
Why your child should read it: Flowers for Algernon is that rare book that can make you laugh, cry and think in one sitting. The story is told though Charlie's personal journal reports, so all of the emotions, from hope to heartbreak, that Charlie encounters are so vivid the reader cannot help but root for him. But this story is also about acceptance and loss, naivety and painful realization, and understanding the sometimes superficial exterior of the otherwise cold and lonely adult world. Charlie believes that if he's smart people will want to be his friend. When he becomes smart he realizes just how cruel those people he called friends were to him. He also sees that the world isn't as simple and kind as he imagined, and that emotions such as love and compassion have nothing to do with IQ.
Yes, this story is notorious for causing its readers to shed a few tears, especially when Charlie discovers the flaw in the procedure in which he and Algernon participated. It's also a heartbreakingly brilliant tale of love and acceptance and the consequences of the old axiom, "Be careful what you wish for."
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