Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “Charlie Gordon is about to embark on an unprecedented journey. Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence – a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon. As the treatment takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?”
Review: This book gave me many flashbacks to watching the movie Awakenings, based on the real-life experiences of neurologist Oliver Sacks when he discovered a drug that temporally brought encephalitis patients out of catatonia, only to have the results be short-lived. As a whole, I found Flowers for Algernon very difficult to read (which I think was Keyes’ point, given that he was repeatedly rejected from potential publishers because he refused to change the novel ending). As Charlie’s IQ begins to skyrocket, so too do the number of flashbacks he has to his troubled childhood and adolescence. This is one of those books that reminds you how truly awful people can be to those with disabilities. While Charlie does find a few allies in his “new” life, he more frequently is hurt and abused by the people he thought were friends. It was particularly saddening to read about how his mother treated him and how the birth of his sister, a “normal” child with no intellectual deficit, greatly altered Charlie’s quality of life at home. I felt like the novel took a turn for the weird and trippy towards the end, with Charlie becoming increasingly neurotic.
“There will be great heat and unbearable light – the hell within hell – but I don’t look at the light, only at the flower, unmultiplying, undividing itself back from the many toward one.”
The best part of this book was the relationship between Algernon and Charlie. In my opinion, more time should have been spent exploring and expanding that relationship. I also found this book to be very predictable, which is why I ultimately went with a three star rating. As I whole, I certainly understand why Flowers for Algernon is a classic, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read and I can’t see myself rereading it anytime soon.
Reason for Ban/Challenge: From 1990 – 1999, Flowers for Algernon was the 43rd most frequently banned/challenged book in the United States. From 2000 – 2010, however, it no longer made the top 100 list. This is likely due to more recently published books edging out older books and changes in school reading curriculum, but may also reflect a changing attitude towards Flowers for Algernon and recognition of its status as a classic. Most ban/challenge requests revolve around some “sexually explicit” scenes in the novel, as Charlie frequently grapples to understand his newfound sexual urges. There have also been complaints about perceived profanity and adult themes.