Has Daniel Keyes simply sweet protagonist Charlie Gordon got you on the hunt for more books like Flowers for Algernon?
It is not surprising, his startlingly beautiful novella highlights the injustice that the mentally disabled face by those who should know better, with a unique narrative offering an alternative angle on what it is like for anyone living with a mental disorder.
In Flowers for Algernon, 32-year-old Charlie has an IQ of 68, all he longs for in the world is to be intelligent and ‘smart’ like everyone else and so embarks on an experimental trial to try and achieve this, an experiment which has only ever been performed once prior on a mouse called Algernon.
Told via Charlie’s own progress reports. we learn that the experiment for both Algernon and Charlie is an initial success and their intelligence soars with Charlie’s IQ surging to 185.
But with his growing intelligence, he too becomes increasingly aware of how unforgiving people can be and the constant conflict between emotion and intellect.
The books like Flowers for Algernon listed below have some equally delightful characters to fall in love with providing an insight into their beautiful minds and souls.
9 Books like Flowers for Algernon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Chris Haddon’s debut The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was published to astronomical acclaim, winning the 2003 Whitbread book of the year award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize among many others.
It is a mystery novel, narrated by 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone and though it is never specified it is implied that Christopher is on the Autistic spectrum especially as he describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties.”
When his neighbours’ dog Wellington is found dead, suspicions arise and Christopher decides to investigate which proves challenging given his fears and struggles when interpreting and navigating the world around him.
His investigation reveals so much more than he ever could have bargained for including some startling revelations very close to home but it also leads him to meet new people, to do things he never would have done before and travel to places alone that he never before believed he could.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great next book for readers of novels like Flowers for Algernon with Christopher sure to fill any void in your heart left behind by Charlie.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
Ottessa Moshfegh’s New York Times Best Selling novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not so much an exploration into someone with a syndrome like Autism Spectrum Disorder but certainly delves deep into the negative effects the modern world can have on one’s mental health with regards to depression and anxiety.
In theory, the novel’s narrator should be happy, she is young, thin, wealthy, attractive however she is anything but, she’s tired of the phoney materialistic views of people around her and has just about had enough of everything.
What starts out as self-medicating to ensure she’s only awake for a few hours a day forges the narrator’s decision to remain sedated and sleep for an entire year to reset her life and outlook on existence.
We follow her experiment with stockpiled drugs to get the dosage right, see some amusing escapades under the influence and discover whether or not a year of sleep will be enough.
A fascinating, freeing do it yourself science experiment all too well within reach, My Year of Rest and Relaxation focuses on how at times alienation can be craved as much as company, an interesting concept for fans of books like Flowers for Algernon.
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s haunting American Classic The Bell Jar is not about a loveable character like Charlie or Christopher however, it does provide an incredibly realistic depiction of someone struggling with the way their brain is wired while trying to survive in the world let alone find a place in it.
Offering an intensely emotive look into the darkest recesses of the human psyche as the novel’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood slowly loses her grip on reality as insanity’s choke hold tightens around her, a portrayal which should fascinate any reader of books similar to Flowers for Algernon.
Like Moshfegh’s narrator in the aforementioned My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Esther is beautiful, brilliant and the envy of others but below the surface she is struggling, a struggle which we see become all the more harder as Plath draws the reader into her breakdown and has us questioning, as Esther does, what is real and what is not.
An extraordinary novel it is no wonder that The Bell Jar has become the enduring masterpiece it is.
Have you already read this classic novel? Check out our list of books like The Bell Jar!
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is groundbreaking for many reasons, it highlights racial injustice, standing up for what’s right not what’s easy but also how the mentally disabled are treated and misjudged in regards to the elusive character Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley.
Rumours and ill-treatment forced Boo into seclusion, he is almost ghostly as only legends and hearsay circulate about him in the fictional Maycomb, Alabama where the novel is set.
The main storyline focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of assaulting a white woman with local lawyer Atticus Finch defending him, tensions rise in the predominantly white neighbourhood.
The secondary storyline involves Atticus’ children Scout and Jem who, along with feeling the pressures of the court case, develop a fascination with Boo and try to lure him out of isolation by leaving gifts for him in his garden which he reciprocates developing a fondness of his own for the children.
The book ends with Scout poignantly pondering recent events from Boo’s perspective, her awareness to try and be a better human being is what makes To Kill a Mockingbird a moving read for those searching for novels similar to Flowers for Algernon.
Already know and love this iconic novel? Check out our list more books like To Kill a Mockingbird!
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
If it is the science fiction aspect in particular that has you on the hunt for more novels like Flowers for Algernon then you are sure to enjoy Theodore Sturgeon’s incredible novel More than Human too, a story concerning the uniting of six rather extraordinary people with remarkable powers.
Alone, these six people are considered freaks with the first part entitled “The Fabulous Idiot,” but together they can combine or “blesh” their abilities to potentially start a new phase of evolution.
Among the six there’s Gerry who possesses everything it takes to rule the world except a conscience, a pair of teleporting twins and Lone who can hear other’s thoughts and persuade them to do unspeakable things yet is a bit of a simpleton himself.
They all struggle with who they are, trying to fit in and find comfort in the world, Sturgeon’s incredible imagination and pathos is what makes More than Human such a great read for Algernon fans as it emulates how Charlie and a lot of the characters in the books on this list spent their lives feeling and being terrorised for being different.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
One of John Steinbeck’s most enduring novels, Of Mice and Men tells the story of two outsiders — George Milton and his simple-minded friend, the lovable Lennie Small –who are both struggling to find their way in this unforgiving world and survive the Great Depression in America.
Other than each other the only thing George and Lennie have in the world is a shared vision, a dream of one day owning some land of their own, a dream which leads them to work on a ranch to get together some money. Unfortunately, their dreams get squashed due to the extreme cruelty faced by Lennie, his ever so loving nature and complete oblivion as to his own strength.
In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck gives voice to the lonely, the dispossessed, drifters and misfits of this world as a way to demonstrate how we need to try harder to understand one another and tackles similar themes of friendship, loneliness and isolation faced by many of the characters in books like Flowers for Algernon.
How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig
If you like Flowers for Algernon for the relatable aspects of Charlie craving what he doesn’t have only to be disappointed then you will enjoy this aspect of Matt Haig’s 2017 novel How to Stop Time, too.
Tom looks like any other 40 something-year-old man yet beneath the surface is someone who has quite literally seen and done it all; he’s drank with Shakespeare, lived in Elizabethan England, enjoyed Paris’ Jazz Age, he’s conversed with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to name just a few of his experiences.
For Tom has a rare condition which means he has been alive for centuries but all he craves now is a normal existence as he struggles to continuously adapt and fit into a world that is also constantly changing.
Though not a book about any form of mental incongruence, it does touch on a lot of similar themes as the other books appearing on this list such as feelings of isolation, being misunderstood by others and a struggle to fully connect with people.
Tom’s own immunity from human pain echoes Charlie’s blissful ignorance towards the ills of the human condition making How to Stop Time a particularly emotive read.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine took the world by storm upon publication in 2017 and it is easy to understand why.
Eleanor Oliphant’s life follows a rigid timetable from her outfits, her meals to how she spends her free time, she doesn’t have space for anyone else let alone deviations from her schedule which is completely fine and just how she likes it. But shouldn’t life be more than just fine?
We join Eleanor as she slowly, and at times begrudgingly, discovers that it should thanks to Raymond the oafish IT guy she works with and Sammy an elderly gentleman whom she helps and unwittingly starts caring about deeply.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a heartwarming tale of friendship, acceptance and how difficult it can be at times to let people in.
Eleanor reminds me of a female version of Haddon’s Christopher, she likes things done a certain way and struggles to interact with others but she also has similar elements to Charlie too like a traumatic past and coworkers who make fun of her eccentricities. She is an equally wonderful, complex and captivating character that readers of novels like Flowers for Algernon will be fascinated by.
Already familiar with this popular novel? Check out our list of books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine!
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
As with a lot of characters in books like Flowers for Algernon, finding love isn’t particularly easy especially when you view the world differently and struggle to interact with people on a social level.
In Graeme Simsion’s brilliant novel The Rosie Project, genetics professor Don Tillman is looking for a wife but, due to his intelligence and stubborn mindset, has found it difficult to interact without judging people. So, he cleverly devises a series of questions to help find his perfect match which leads him to Rosie Jarman.
Rosie is a barmaid, a smoker, she drinks and is often late – pretty much the complete opposite of what Don is ‘meant’ to be looking for. But despite no obvious attraction they decide to be friends and Don embarks on a journey to help Rosie find her biological father, a journey which takes them around the world to a place neither of them realised they would end up.
The Rosie Project is an incredibly moving story, at times it is hilarious while others heartbreaking but it is truly a wonderful read relatable on many levels and stresses how love, though it often doesn’t make sense, it certainly cannot be found on paper.
There you have it a list of books like Flowers for Algernon which will completely blindside you in their unique portrayals of people whose brains are wired slightly differently, they are absolutely fascinating stories which will break your heart while warming it up at the same time, enjoy.
Are you searching for books like Flowers for Algernon? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!