Reposting my 2013 review because Flowers for Algernon is today’s (May 28) Audible Deal of the Day. You can buy the audiobook for $3.95 (no membership required, use your Amazon login if you do not have an audible account.)
Summary: Classic young adult novel about a man that gains and then loses intelligence.
Several years ago I revisited a lot of the young adult literature that I loved as a child or teen. Revisiting those books helped to renew my interest in young adult literature. So now I regularly read 2 or 3 young adult novels a month.
I still occasionally go back and revisit novels that I have not read in 25 or 30 years. Flowers for Algernon was on sale at some point about a year ago and I picked it up. But after reading 10 pages or so, put it down.
I picked it up again and read it over the Memorial Day weekend. Originally I read Flowers for Algernon in either 7th or 8th grade english class.
Reading it again, I am somewhat surprised and wonder if I am properly gauging the age range for young adult literature.
In Flowers for Algernon, Charlie is developmentally disabled adult (as we now term it, but in the book he is frequently called retarded or other variants) is given some type of operation that makes him smart.
The book is simply his journal entries, so you can visually see the improvement in Charlie’s intelligence. The early pages of the book can be challenging at times because the spelling and sentence structure is very low. In fact, according to later descriptions, I think the early pages are actually showing him at too high of a level.
Later Charlie progresses to a point where he simply absorbs languages and knowledge, but lacks emotional intelligence and wisdom. It seems to me that one of the main messages of the book are about the importance of emotional intelligence and wisdom and that greater knowledge does not bring about greater happiness.
This is also worth reading to think about issues of medical ethics and testing in ways that are even more relevant to the 21st century than they were in the 1960s when the book was originally written.
What I did not remember is the relatively frequent use of language (nothing that any 5th grader has not heard, but I was surprised I did not remember its use). And even more surprising is Charlie’s sexual activity. There are references to masturbation and sex, although no sex scenes. Again, this is something I have no memory of. So I don’t know if it just wasn’t something I was paying attention to, I wasn’t really aware of what is going on (I don’t think so) or we were reading an edited version.
I remembered this being a very sad book. I won’t blow the ending, but it is fairly obvious from about the middle of the book. Reading it now, it is sad, but not nearly as sad as many other young adult books I have read recently.
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