Marshmallow reviews Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

In the last few weeks, Marshmallow and her English class have been reading a version of the classic novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, first published as a short story in 1959 and then expanded by its author to be published as a full novel in 1966. Sprinkles was excited to see Marshmallow getting into the story because she remembers it fondly from her own time reading the same book in school decades ago. In the blog post below, the two bunnies discuss the full book.

Marshmallow reviews Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
Marshmallow reviews Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, why don’t we start with your usual short overview of the book?

Marshmallow: Why not? If you like books about growing up or living through a big change, this might be the book for you.

S: I think that is a good way to describe the book. The main character is originally a mentally challenged adult, so he is not really growing up, but he undergoes an experimental treatment which enhances his mental capabilities immensely, and so he is going through a big change.

M: Yes. The main character is Charlie Gordon, and he is the one narrating the story. The book is written as a series of progress reports, all through his perspective.

S: Yes, the entries are like diary entries, right?

M: Yes, most of them. And at the beginning he is using very simple sentences and basic words and sometimes has very poor spelling. As the treatment takes effect, he begins to write more complex sentences and use bigger words. He also starts to write about more personal and complicated things and has to confront some past emotional trauma. So, for example, I should warn all bunnies that the book does have some explicit descriptions of certain sexual feelings and acts. As Charlie gets more and more mentally capable, he begins to notice his attraction to women.

S: Even before the operation, he might have felt some such feelings, but would perhaps not write about them?

M: I’m not sure. It seems to me that Charlie had the mind of a three year old before the operation, and so he did not have any sexual impulses.

S: Hmm, that sounds somewhat unrealistic to me, given that he has the body of a full-grown man; his hormones and related needs and desires would probably be quite typical.

M: Well, I don’t know, but he seems to become more interested in things like that, and that was quite a bit different from the version we have been reading at school. In that version, we do not see any of this stuff. Which is in some ways easier to read.

S: I can understand that. Perhaps that is why a lot of school districts have had discussions about this book, and apparently some have even removed it from their libraries. The sexual content might be a lot for some younger bunnies to handle, even though I was not bothered by them when I was a young bunny reading the book. Then again, I might have been a little older than you… Or who knows? Maybe I read an abridged version, too, and I do not recall very well.

M: Maybe. I don’t know. But the full book is a bit more adult than my usual reading fare. The only other book I have read that is kind of like this one is 1984 by George Orwell, which also had some explicit scenes.

S: I understand. I’d say that both books have very serious messages, and the sexually explicit scenes in both books play significant roles in clarifying those messages. So for example in 1984, the sexual scenes show us the main character’s difficulties with intimacy and the oppressiveness of the general climate. In this book, I think the sexual scenes are a part of Charlie becoming more aware of his body, his personality, his needs and desires, as well as how the outside world views him.

M: I can see that.

Marshmallow is reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
Marshmallow is reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

S: So who or what is Algernon? Why is the book titled Flowers for Algernon?

M: Algernon is a mouse. He has gone through the same operation that Charlie has, and in some ways, the changes he goes through are similar to what happens to Charlie. So Charlie begins to really like and care for Algernon, because Algernon is more or less the only other creature in the world who is going through the same thing that Charlie is. And then —

S: Wait, don’t give everything away!

M: Okay, no more spoilers. But things do get pretty sad, and the title of the book is in the very last sentence of the book.

S: Yes, that is true. What did you think of Charlie? Did you like him or sympathize with him?

M: I liked him, more at some times and less at others. He is a childlike and kind person at the beginning, and that I really liked. But then as the operation takes effect and he begins to get more and more intelligent, he becomes more arrogant and he does not even realize that. I did not like him that much then. But eventually he does begin to understand other people better, and he remembers and tries to process some of the emotional trauma from his childhood. He justifiably gets angry at some people who mistreated him when he did not know they were being mean. And there I could of course sympathize with him. And he wants to be accepted most of all.

S: I guess that is a very understandable need. We are social creatures and we want to belong.

M: Yes. I think so. So when he becomes too intelligent, that is also isolating. Certain people used to feel better about themselves by putting him down, but now they feel inferior to him and begin to fear and avoid him. In some ways, those people were not good people to have as friends anyways, but Charlie did not know. In any case, in the end —

S: Wait, remember, we don’t want to be giving away too much…

M: Hmm, okay, I guess I should stop here.

S: Alright. Let us do that. Would you recommend this book to other young bunnies? Or perhaps, you’d recommend the abridged version?

M: I think young bunnies might really like the abridged version. Charlie’s story is a lot simpler in it and it is a lot easier to read. And you get to really like him and feel for him, and and the story is still sad but beautiful.

S: Okay. That makes sense to me. Full-blown people are all pretty complex, and I think the original book captures that really well. Charlie is a complex person with a complex story, and the book does give us a lot more to chew on. But the main message can come through quite clearly in the abridged version, too, without the distractions of the sex dimension and the emotional trauma. So how do you want to end this review?

M: I can say my usual: Stay tuned for more amazing reviews from the book bunnies!

Marshmallow appreciated reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and recommends it to her peers but emphasizes that perhaps some might prefer an abridged version.
Marshmallow appreciated reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and recommends it to her peers but emphasizes that perhaps some might prefer an abridged version.

Marshmallow reviews The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz

Today Marshmallow reviews The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz, published just this past week.

The book bunnies received this book as a review copy.

Marshmallow reviews The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz.
Marshmallow reviews The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like realistic fiction books about family and growing up into one’s own, then this might be the book for you.

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): The year is 1975. Thirteen-year-old Joey Goodman is staying at his grandparents’ hotel, the St. Bonaventure, for the summer. The hotel, located by an Atlantic City boardwalk, is struggling to keep business.

Joey has a very large and busy Jewish family, and he feels often ignored or not taken seriously by them. He goes to the boardwalk sometimes to pass the time, and one of these times, he runs into some mobsters. Unfortunately, Joey doesn’t know or want to know that they are mobsters because he quickly becomes “one of the guys”.

The mobsters are led by a man named Artie Bishop, who Joey begins to view almost as a father. Becoming “one of the guys” makes Joey feel strong and valued, because at the hotel he feels that everyone thinks he is weak and scared. Additionally, they pay him well, first for being able to play Skee-Ball very well, and then later for chaperoning Artie Bishop’s almost sixteen year old daughter (Melanie) around the boardwalk. (Joey falls in love with her, despite their age difference and the fact that Melanie probably doesn’t view him in that way.)

Eventually, however, Artie learns that Joey’s family runs the St. Bonaventura, and he asks for a favor. Even in the beginning, hanging out with the “guys” meant that Joey had to conceal the truth from his family. Now Artie asks him to put a package in the hotel in a room no one ever looks at. But when the package disappears, Joey starts to see how bad the mobsters can get. He must find out what true strength means to him and whether might would triumph over right. 

Marshmallow is reading The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz.
Marshmallow is reading The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz.

Marshmallow’s Review: I thought that The Prince of Steel Pier was an interesting book because it was set in a different time period from our own and the author made it feel believable. 1975 is a long time ago for little bunnies today, but when you read The Prince of Steel Pier, you see that growing up is always the same. You want to feel important and respected, but you also are still young and you can make a lot of mistakes and you need your family.

The story is narrated from Joey’s point of view, in first person and mostly in the present tense. The present tense made the story feel like it was happening just now and I was reading along. And the first person narration made me feel like I could understand Joey a lot better. I found it very interesting to read about his problems inside and out. Joey has a queasy stomach when he gets nervous or anxious, and that was a unique aspect of the character, but it also reminded me a bit of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts, which I have recently reviewed.

While reading, I kept wondering how the author would wrap things up; without spoiling things too much, I can say that, at the end, I was very happy about how she did it.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%. 

Marshmallow rates The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz 95%.
Marshmallow rates The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz 95%.

Marshmallow reviews Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

A couple years ago Marshmallow read and reviewed When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Today she reviews another book from the same author published in 2015: Goodbye Stranger.

Marshmallow reviews Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.
Marshmallow reviews Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, friendship, and mystery, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Bridge is an accident survivor. She has missed all of third grade, and had to learn how to live normally again. When she returned to school, her friend Tabitha (Tab) introduced her to Emily (Em), and the three of them became best friends, the set of fourth graders who drew animals in the corner of their homework. (Bridge draws a Martian, Tab draws a funny bird, and Em draws a spotted snake.)

They are now starting seventh grade and are in middle school. They are still best friends, but some things have changed. Em turned out to be really good at sports, and her body has started to change, which has attracted some attention. Tab is now a “know-it-all” and has become very interested in social action/change and feminism.

The three girls are best friends and they all follow one rule: no fighting. But they have encountered some difficulty with this rule since they started middle school. Bridge has become very good friends with a boy named Sherm. She has joined the Tech Crew with him. But she finds herself confused about how she feels about him. But the worst problem of all is Em’s. She has made a critical mistake, regarding a boy, and the repercussions threaten to tear the trio apart. 

Different chapters of the book are told in different voices. In some chapters we read the letters Sherm writes to his grandfather. He never sends them though. Sherm’s grandfather left his family and ran off with some woman that is not Sherm’s grandmother. Sherm doesn’t think that he can forgive his grandfather for leaving them, ever. Sherm also has trouble identifying his feelings toward Bridge. Sherm writes down the events of the book in these letters, from his point of view, ending each letter with the amount of time left before his grandfather’s birthday, something they used to do before he left. 

The third set of chapters is written in the voice of an unknown highschooler (who knows the previous characters mentioned). This particular person is having big problems with her friends, specifically Vinny. Vinny is pretty, smart, and popular, and the unknown highschooler used to be best friends with her, until she (the anonymous highschooler) finally realized how cruel she was. Vinny likes to play a “tasting game” where she blindfolds a person and feeds them something. If she likes you, she gives you a banana or something. If she doesn’t like you, she gives you a spoon of black pepper. The unknown student brings another girl, named Gina, to meet Vinny, and Vinny feeds her pepper during the game. The unknown teenager struggles to understand whether the Vinny she knew when she was younger is still there, under the cruelty. 

Marshmallow is reading Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.
Marshmallow is reading Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.

Marshmallow’s Review: Goodbye Stranger is a good book. I found it interesting that the name of the anonymous highschooler is unknown until the end, and that it turns out to be someone who has been there since the beginning. I didn’t guess who it was at all. As I said before, the book is told from multiple perspectives: Bridge, Sherm, and the unknown girl. I think that this made it more interesting. And the three voices are quite different from one another. All of Sherm’s chapters are in the form of letters written to a grandfather, while Bridge’s chapters are narrated in the third person. The unknown highschooler chapters, on the other hand, keep using “you”, which leaves a totally different flavor in the end.

I think that Goodbye Stranger is probably better for middle schoolers and up. There are some things that might be confusing for younger children. For example, I think Caramel might not understand all of the plot.

One minor thing I felt was not perhaps ideal was the way the most idealistic of the three girls, Tab, was treated, both by others in the book and by the author, too, in the end. I think Tab was perhaps a bit too naive and perhaps a bit too strong with her passion for an equitable and just world, but I think those are valuable things to hope and work for, and I did not appreciate that she was too often dismissed and not taken seriously.

Overall though, I think that the author, Rebecca Stead, did a great job with this book. The characters are unique and realistic, and also very understandable. Rebecca Stead also wrote When You Reach Me, which I reviewed before. I did like that book a lot, too, but I think that Goodbye Stranger is even better.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.

Marshmallow rates Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 100%.
Marshmallow rates Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 100%.