Flowers for Algernon was written by Daniel Keyes in 1966 and (jointly) won the years Nebula Award for Best Novel. It is classified as science fiction, and rightly so, but it does not feel like that is the genre you’re reading. Let me explain.
The story is told through the eyes of Charlie Gordon a 32 year old man who is mentally disabled, suffering from Phenylketonuria. As a result, Charlie has an IQ of 68, which means the affliction severely impairs mental abilities. Charlie is desperate to learn and be smart, which is a result of the severe abuse he received as a child from his mother; She would not accept that Charlie wasn’t ‘normal.’ Researching psychologists at the local university have developed an operation that will drastically increase intelligence, and Charlie Gordon is the first human subject to receive the treatment.
The best part about the book, however, is that it is all told through the journal entries written by Charlie himself. In the first entry, it is clear that Charlie cannot write very well. His spelling, grammer, and sentence structure are drastically below the average. He speaks of very simple things like ‘getting smart’ and his job at the local bakery where he sweeps floors. After he receives the surgery, Charlie slowly but assuredly becomes smarter and his journal entries reflect this, both in ability and insight.
This style puts you directly in the shoes of a person with special needs. It gives words to those that have none (or not enough). People with needs in this world are often disregarded, cast aside, or worse, made fun of or ridiculed or abused. The book tackles these issues and attempts to break those stereotypes. The message (in my opinon) is they are people, and deserved to be treated that way.
It’s a heart breaking book, and definitely worth its pages. This is required reading for everyone.