Charlie begins his diaries when he learns how to read and write at the school for adults. He begins with spelling errors and no punctuation. He tediously tries to learn how to write with more coherency, and he dreams of being smart. The lab down the street just experimented on Algernon, a mouse, to increase intelligence. Charlie undergoes the same operation to increase his IQ, and his entries become very elevated very quickly. Soon, he’s surpassed his own doctors in intelligence. He’s mentally growing, but now he struggles to change mentally and physically to match his new intelligence. After a while, Algernon begins to deteriorate. And by Charlie’s calculations, the same may happen to him.
I don’t know how long this sat on my TBR list, but it took an independent banned books project to push me to pick it up. Let me just tell you, I should have read it sooner.
This book is absolutely gorgeous. From start to finish, I was captivated.
It begins with a hard-to-follow account of Charlie’s life. He’s oblivious to the taunts of his coworkers at the bakery, he doesn’t remember his family, and he goes through the motions with little thought of anything else but his one goal: to be smart. Daniel Keyes uses the medium of a diary to further show the readers his level of intelligence and his growth. Nothing is spelled right, no punctuation, no real sentences. It’s hard to adjust to at first, but it adds to the point of the story.
Later on, after the operation, they begin by guiding him and teaching him different things. He gradually begins to write better and give more thorough accounts. He starts to remember fragments about his family and reads more.
After a while, he surpasses everyone else in intelligence. He teaches himself different languages, studies scientific journals, writes with complete accuracy and contemplates different concepts. He remembers the abuse his family caused him and realizes the reality behind his coworkers’ snickers.
This is when it gets really sad. Once he starts remembering and realizing and thinking about his life, I’d find myself clutching the book with anger. He was abused and yelled at and expected to be like all the other kids, and he wanted to please his parents, but he couldn’t. His sister and mother mistreated him, and they dumped him off to work at the bakery as soon as possible. They couldn’t understand or accept his differences, which was super frustrating because Charlie’s the sweetest guy around and wouldn’t harm a fly.
Emotionally and physically, though, Charlie was still underdeveloped. The reader sees his effortless intelligence growth, but he struggles with maturity and relationships.
At the peak of his intelligence, the themes of the novel start to surface. What’s more important: intelligence or kindness? Was Charlie better off not remembering his past? Ignorance is bliss, and Charlie alienated people with his elevation as effectively as his alienation before the operation. Is the operation morally right? Are the doctors playing God? This is a perfect discussion book because so many questions rise surrounding the operation and the aftermath.
The ending, and I’ll try not to spoil it, really got me. And then another question comes up: Was it worth it?
I highly recommend this book. It’ll really stop and make you think, and the writing style transformation that reflects Charlie’s intelligence is fascinating to read. I’ve never read another book like it, and I loved its uniqueness and the complete emotional rollercoaster it takes the reader on.