For today’s 30-Day Book Challenge post, I have been challenged to pick a book that makes me sad. I must admit that I kind of like sad books. Sometimes reading about other people’s problems makes your own seem less bad. Still, it was a little hard to remember a book that left me feeling very sad. Usually there is a sense of closure at the end of sad books that makes them a little more bearable. But as I was scrolling through Goodreads, I came across a book I remember being distraught over in 6th grade, and then again when I had to read it in college: Flowers for Algernon.
The book, by Daniel Keyes, is narrated by a man named Charlie in the form of progress reports to his doctor. Charlie is mentally disabled with an IQ of 68, but receives an experimental brain surgery that transforms him into a genius over several weeks. The surgery is experimental because it had previously been attempted only on animals, specifically a mouse named Algernon. As Charlie gets smarter, he learns about love, truth, and alienation. He realizes that when he wasn’t smart, people were laughing at him, not with him. He realizes that people still don’t like him when he is ten times smarter than they are. It turns out that the only person Charlie can relate to is the mouse Algernon, and that might not be such a good thing.
Flowers for Algernon explores what it means to be human and what it means to be different. It compares the value of knowledge versus its cost. It’s almost like a more accessible, science fiction version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will give you a bit of advice: have plenty of tissues on hand.