The Program by Suzanne Young
Hardcover: 408 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: 30 April 2013
Age Level: Young Adult
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound
In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.
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.
How do I even begin to review The Program? There are a million things running through my head right now. I guess the best way is to just start and hope I'm able to make some sort of sense. Okay... here goes nothing. Oh man. I love this story! I started this book knowing I needed something a little different from the stuff I had been reading. Man, was this the perfect pick! I absolutely love this book. I love it so much that I want to scream from the rooftops about how good it is! I want the next book right now. I don't want to wait for April.
This book really made me think. It is so much more than the suicide epidemic plaguing their world. It's about love and hope and fighting for what's important. What happens when all your choices are stripped away from you and your past erased? It's about figuring out who we are, once we no longer remember our past. I mean, who are we without our past experiences? Without those people we've chosen to share ourselves with?
This book is just... it's so good. I think Suzanne Young handled this very serious subject matter with sensitivity and reverence. This world, where teen suicide has become an epidemic, is terrifying. It's difficult to comprehend a world in which one in three teenagers commit suicide. It makes me sick to think of what this reality would be like, but that's what life is like for Sloane, James and everyone they know. The Program was instituted in their area to help save lives, but at the cost of memories. At the cost of their identity. It hollows them out, and some would rather die than lose who they are. So my question is: is the Program really helping?
I like the main character, Sloane. She's much more brave than she first imagines and you really get to see her character evolve and get stronger as the novel progresses. She's pretty frazzled in the beginning. Her brother committed suicide a few years ago and her best friend was admitted into the Program fairly recently. She was never given a chance to grieve for her brother or her friend, because it might show signs of being "infected," so all these feelings bottle up inside. She's trying to be brave, to stay unnoticed, but you can see it's taking its toll. Her one constant - and reason for keeping up appearances - is her boyfriend, James. I really like those two together. Though the relationship is already established when we meet them, there is no denying that these two are madly in love with one another. No way do they want to be separated from each other. At first I didn't know what to think about James, but then I grew to be quite fond of him. He's a really good guy and he's doing his best to keep Sloane and their friend Miller out of the clutches of the Program. Always ready with a reminder to smile and keep it together, James is a rock. He's passionate and funny and can be a real pain in the butt - in the most endearing way - but he's also struggling. He feels responsible for the death of his best friend, Brady, Sloane's brother. Though it's definitely not his fault, he can't help feeling like he let him down. Sloane feels the same way, but at least they have one another to help make sense of things as best they can. ... Then all heck breaks loose and things spiral out of control.
Though it was difficult to see Sloane and the boys struggle with all these emotions they're not allowed to show, I was absolutely captivated by this intense story. Being a teenager is already full of emotions churning around and around. Then to have to keep them bottled up or risk being sent to the Program to be wiped clean? Yeah, that's a recipe for disaster if ever there was one. You just know, reading this, that something is going to break. Someone will crack and then the Program will intervene. It's kind of difficult to talk much about what happens without giving away spoilers, but what I can say is that I was totally on the edge of my seat. I was appalled by the adults all around them. Parents, doctors, teachers... none of them understood what the kids were feeling or thinking. They couldn't see how just the thought of going into the Program was freaking them out. They were constantly on edge! Some of the parents even flagged their own children, thinking everything would be okay. But seriously, did they honestly think their child was going to be all rainbows and sunshine when they came out? They had no clue how confused and disoriented it would feel to have your life stolen from you. I can kind of see how such concern for your child could make you desperate, like sending them to the Program desperate, but still. They seriously had to wonder if the Program was a good thing, right? Sure, it says the Program has 100% survival rate, but the returners are hardly alive. They're empty shells with no memory of what makes them... them. Why would you want that for your son or daughter?
Okay, I'm going to be spoilery here in this paragraph because I simply can't help it. Sloane breaks after Miller "terminates" and James is taken into the Program. Then, to pour salt in the wound, her mother flags her to the handlers. When she gets a first class ticket to the Program, she's resistant the whole way. She knows this is wrong and she refuses to let them take her memories. She tries to resist, but slowly she begins to forget. It would be so infuriating to have no power at all. The Program gives them the illusion of having a choice, when it suits their purpose... but go against the grain and watch out. They'll even use force if necessary. One of the handlers, Roger, is a total creep. I didn't like him, not from the moment he notices Sloane, when one of her classmates is dragged away... during class. Then when Sloane is admitted, this creepy dark-haired handler is like her personal shadow. Always making suggestive comments and trying to touch her in any small way. Ugh. I get all grossed out just thinking about him. Luckily for Sloane, she makes a friend. Realm (or Michael, to all the adults) is friendly and seems to truly care about Sloane's health. I immediately wanted to like him, but I was a little wary. I mean, how could I not be in this messed up world of theirs? He also seemed to be able to get away with a lot; but then again, he is quite the charmer. I'm glad Sloane had him to take care of her and protect her from Mr Creeper. Eventually, once she's been wipe of all the "infected" memories, Sloane gets to go home. But things aren't as perfect as they seem. She has all these feelings but nothing to justify them, as far as she can remember. As a returner, she's complacent at first. But then come all the questions and confusion. Oh my goodness, it was so tough knowing what had happened to her, what she lost, and then seeing her struggle through all this. At least outside of the Program, she has a little better chance of making her own decisions and finding her own path.
Overall, this story is equal parts terrifying and hopeful. It's full of love and hope and strength, even amidst all the horrid things going on. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to see what was going to happen to my beloved characters. Suzanne Young has created an intriguing alternate reality that is sure to seep its way into your very being. Even weeks later, I can't stop thinking about this story and wondering what's going to happen. I want to know everything! The Program has captured my heart, broken it and is mending it even as I write this. I always say you can tell a book is good when you just can't seem to let it go. Well, this book is good. It's really good. I can certainly say that The Treatment, the sequel, can't come soon enough. Is it April yet?
A favorite quote: “I think that sometimes the only real thing is now”