Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.
CJ Hastings spent most of the next school day trying to hide the fact that he’d learned how to read over the weekend.
He also found out it wasn’t hard to hide it. Most people knew he didn’t know how to read. They figured that was how he was always going to be.
He was staring down at a reading and writing in-class assignment when Mr. Quinn leaned over him in class and whispered, “We’ve just got to keep working, CJ! You may never read as well as other kids, but there are plenty of things you can do to help. You should be able to get all of your college books as mp3 files. Or even hire someone to read them to you. Just keep working as hard as you always do and you’ll keep getting better. That’s all we can do – keep getting better.”
CJ looked up at him. He was sort of a grandfatherly sort. The only kids who gave him a hard time were the real hard-cores. When they did that though, they found out Mr. Quinn was anything BUT a grandfather. He’d been coaching CJ since sixth grade. He’d even tried working with him after school, but nothing seemed to work.
Now, Mai Li said he could read at a ninth grade reading level. Would that continue to go up the more he practiced, or would the gains all of a sudden start to fade away and leave him worse off than he started? He leaned over the assignment. When him and Mai Li had been sitting in front of the computer and he’d been reading out loud to her – and she’d been grinning – he’d felt like he’d grown wings and could fly.
That was compared to feeling like he was retarded and barely had wing stubs because his measured reading level was equal to that of a second-grader. A NEW second-grader.
OTOH, he didn’t think he should just start reading at a ninth grade level all of a sudden. It might give Mr. Quinn a heart attack! Worse, he might accuse CJ of messing with people’s emotions all these years by pretending to need help reading. He hunched over the assignment even more and started writing at his usual rate – even though he could suddenly READ everything at was on the page.
He stared at it for a while. Why hadn’t he been able to read all these years? The phone rang in the corner and Mr. Quinn went to answer it. CJ hardly noticed, he was too busy slowing himself down. How was it that his brain had been unable to see, process and interpret the symbols on the page – he’d listened to people talking about him since he was in third grade and Mom had first worried about his reading – when he did it so easily now? The paragraph in front of him was like…a little kid's story.
At the same time, he knew he’d been almost completely incapable of reading this last Friday.
What had happened?
“Mai Li…” Mr. Quinn said at the phone. The teacher’s eyes looked up and locked on CJ’s eyes at that moment. He covered the receiver and said, “Get your things and hurry down to the office, CJ. Your mother is waiting for you.”
“Why?” CJ asked, knowing as he said exactly how stupid it sounded.
“Just hurry. She needs you there right away.”