Title: The Program
Author: Suzanne Young
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Origins: Simon Pulse
Bottom Line: Emotionally tense and so romantic
“Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone – but so are their memories.Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.”
Thoughts: In a not-so-distant future, teen suicides have reached epidemic proportions. The government’s response is The Program, a course of treatment that erases any depressing memories, thereby allowing patients to move on with their lives. To the parents, its track record of 100 percent recovery justifies any uncomfortableness surrounding it. To those who are in danger, it is a constant source of worry and tension as no one wants to lose their memories or worse. Sloane and James have managed to survive without becoming infected or drawing unwarranted, and unwanted, attention to them. However, it is still a long time until they are legal adults and out of the reaches of The Program, and the fight to appear calm and happy grows increasingly more difficult as they watch their friends succumb one at a time. It is just a matter of time before The Program comes for them, and their desperation is palpable. Suzanne Young’s The Program deftly weaves the emotional turmoil Sloane experiences and uses it to both confuse and entice readers, leaving them wondering just how good The Program really is.
While young adult romances have arguably been overdone, there is something about James and Sloane. The Program classifies their relationship as co-dependent and the reason why they both get sick, and it is a viable opinion. A reader can see how they feed off of one another and filled with survivor’s guilt. At the same time, though, a reader can also see the legitimacy of their feelings. Sloane is a different person when she is around James – happier, relaxed, comfortable. It is when they are apart that they succumb to the pressures of the near-constant surveillance. They may be young, but their bond is more than due to their mutual grief and guilt. Theirs is a relationship that grew over time, and Sloane’s memories prove that. Sloane and James are two bright spots of hope within a story that is bleak and clinical.
Those potential readers worried about reading yet another dystopian novel should have no fear. Actually, to classify The Program as a dystopian novel is to lump this clever story into a bloated, heavily diluted genre. There is nothing about the setting that indicates the fall of society. There is no group of people struggling to exist. There is no futuristic (or archaic) technology. The novel is better served when classified as an alternative reality-type novel, where the only thing that is different or otherworldly is the idea of depression as a contagious, and often terminal, infection.
Speaking of the infection, there are so many questions left unanswered about it, and therein lies some of the story’s power. The questions raised by Sloane and through a reader’s own curiosity hint at a more insidious plot than what The Program would have one believe. Yet, there is nothing concrete to confirm those hints. Is this depression really an infection to be cured, or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy created by the constant surveillance and pressure these teens face on a daily basis? How much is internal and how much of their sickness external? For that reason, The Program is incredibly intense. There is the underlying threat of danger that evokes a reader’s flight-or-fight response, but the truly interesting part is that this supposed danger could easily be explained as Sloane’s paranoia. A reader must decide whether Sloane’s suspicions and fears are over-the-top teen angst or truly deserved. The doubt – Sloane’s and the reader’s own – makes the story that much more compelling, as one tries to decipher if Sloane’s hatred of The Program is justified. A reader’s own uncertainties create a level of anxiety that only adds to the already heightened tension.
The Program should come with a warning label cautioning readers about elevated blood pressure and racing pulses. It is a natural reaction to this powerful story, where the truth might not be what it seems. Then again, it very well might be exactly what it seems. On the surface, the idea of a suicide epidemic is appalling, and it makes sense that the government would get involved in saving an entire generation. Then, The Program happens. Sloane’s experiences are heart-breaking in their cruelty, and watching her lose certain memories is very upsetting. Her struggle to get her life back after her return is just as agonizing. Just like Sloane, a reader has many unanswered questions, which leave one feeling unbalanced at all of the possibilities. Yet, these very same possibilities are 100 percent enticing and draw a reader further into the story’s web. The Program is a strong contender for one of the better releases this spring and definitely worth getting drawn into another series.