Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
For this reading, I chose to read Flowers for Algernon (the short story version). I chose this version since it is a story I have wanted to read for a while now, and I plan to use it in my Literature class this fall (and I knew I would only be using the short story version). After reading the short story, I am compelled to complete the novel at a later date; it is such an intriguing story!!
In a series of diary entries, we are introduced to the main character Charlie Gordon. Charlie is a man with an IQ of 68 who works as a janitor at the Donnegan’s Plastic Box Company. Charlie is selected to be part of an experiment that will increase his intelligence. The experiment has already been done on a lab mouse by the name of Algernon; which has shown to be a great success.
**Beware: Contains Spoilers**
Through Charlie’s diary entries, we see Charlie begin to gain intelligence through the language and spelling that is done. As Charlie begins to become more intelligent, he learns that his friends at the plastic company, were not really the friends he thought they were; they just liked to tease him. Now that he has become intelligent, his co-workers are scared of him and petition him to be fired. Charlie notices that Algernon’s intelligence is starting to decrease and becomes worried that this is an effect of the surgery. Charlie starts to experiment on his own to attempt to find the flaw causing the decrease. As his intelligence decreases, it is evident in the journal writing that Charlie does. Charlie ends up going back to his normal intelligence and decides to “move away”. Algernon, in the meantime, has died. Charlie’s last request is that someone continues to put flowers on Algernon’s grave.
I really enjoyed this story as it shows what the treatment of mentally challenged people can be like. Charlie’s feelings about wanting to be “normal” are heartbreaking. I think it’s a great story to teach about friendship, love, and death. It also shows how a sudden change in a person can impact their life and the lives of those around them. The short story is definitely a story middle school and high school students would be able to read. I have read that there are a few “mature” situations in the novel, so I will have to read that to decide what ages the novel would be more appropriate for.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Pam Munoz Ryan has crafted a beautiful story that intertwines three extraordinary historical stories and one fascinating fantasy together into one not-soon-to-be forgotten novel. Otto becomes lost in the Black Forest where he meets three mysterious sisters. It is here that we are first introduced to the “enchanted” harmonica that will become the connection between the following three historical stories that follow.
In the stories that follow, we find three characters who face injustices in their lives. Friedrich, from Germany, who was born with a large birthmark on his face, has always been ridiculed for how he looks. The Germans also call him the “ugly son of the Jew-lover”. In his story, set during the Holocaust, we find Friedrich with not only the birthmark to contend with but also his father not wanting to align with Hitler. Because of this, Friedrich’s father is taken to Dachau. The next story is set in Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, where we meet Mike and his younger brother, Frank. With a grandmother too old to take care of them, they are sent to an orphanage with a cruel and deceiving director. When they are discovered to hold musical talent, they are taken to the home of the wealthy Mrs. Sturbridge. Unfortunately, Mrs. Sturbridge has problems of her own and no intention of adopting the boys. Mike is determined to hold onto his family at all costs. Finally, we are introduced to Ivy. Ivy is a Mexican-American migrant worker who has been living with her family in California. After the attack on Pearl-Harbor, her family moves to Orange County to work on the farm of a Japanese-American family, the Yamamotos. The Yamamotos have been sent to an internment camp with the other Japanese-Americans. Ivy faces institutional racism there, she and other Latino’s are made to attend a separate school from the rest. This is compounded by the fact that her best friend’s father also believes the Yamamotos are secret spies for the Japanese. In the end, the three stories merge into a wonderfully done conclusion.
I really loved the way Ms. Ryan interwove the stories together. Having the harmonica and music as the connection between all the stories I felt was brilliant. It is definitely a long novel with 592 pages, which I can see with deter some students. But if they give it a chance, I feel that there are many students that will fall in love with this book as much as I did. I found the way it was written with both fantasy and historical fiction new and exciting. Also, the way she was able to bring all stories together was scintillating.