The Program — Suzanne Young

3/5 stars
Goodreads summary: 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.


Note: If you have problems with anxiety, depression, and/or self-harm and are avoiding triggers, this book is not for you. You may also want to avoid this review, since I touch upon those topics. 

When I first heard about The Program, I was excited. I’m not 100% sure what I expected it to be—certainly not the World’s Most Realistic Depiction of Teen Depression and Suicide, considering it’s a young adult dystopia—but I wasn’t anticipating the amalgamation of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Delirium that it turned out to be. It was an intense story, one of those “stay up late and read it all in one night” novels, but there were a few factors that kept this from being a four-star read.

As with most young adult dystopias, the premise is interesting, if not entirely realistic: In the world of The Program (which seems fairly close to our current world, timing-wise) teenage depression and suicide has become an epidemic, believed to be a transferrable disease, and having your mind wiped clean by The Program is the only way to ensure survival. Sloane and her boyfriend, James, vowed when Sloane’s brother killed himself that they would take care of each other and protect each other from The Program. Unfortunately The Program’s reach is everywhere, and avoiding it is an exercise in futility.

The description on the dust jacket pitches this as a book about surviving unavoidable depression, suicide, and/or memory-wiping, the main focus is the romance. The big question Suzanne Young seems to be posing in The Program is, “Does love conquer all?” When your memory has been wiped clean and your friends and your boyfriend selectively and systematically removed from your brain, once you’re sent out into the world again—will you find your way back to your old life? Will those people and emotions from your previous life, the ones you swore they’d never take from you—will they return?

The characterization was a little weak. As a protagonist, Sloane didn’t have a whole lot to set her apart from everyone else; the majority of the focus of the book is on her memories as they are being relived and erased and those are, for the most part, about her relationship with James. So they are sweet, and at times they are heartbreaking, but there’s just not a whole lot going on with her beyond that. I felt for her, I really did, especially when she was trying to fight The Program and losing. Sometimes no matter how strong and determined you are, you can’t win. But she was a pretty generic white bread type, all tragic for most of Part I, letting James fight for her, and that negatively colored my perspective of her for the majority of the rest of the book.

But oh my god, the emotional aspects of this book left me raw. In case the note at the start of this review didn’t put you off, let me say I’m in an excellent place right now, mentally and emotionally, and parts of The Program made me feel claustrophobic and panicky and brought up past feelings and experiences that were almost overwhelming. The Program was so gripping, though, that I didn’t want to give up on it. Instead, I took some time at a few points to put the book down and sort of breathe through it and remind myself it was fiction.

And reflecting on it now, I think that is an indication that Young knows how to write about depression and fear and helplessness in a way that fully immerses you in those feelings. Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with the way The Program presented these issues as something that just happens to you, completely unavoidably, and the only cures are to either let the Big Bad erase your memory or commit suicide, I can’t help but applaud Suzanne Young’s ability to take the feelings of depression and isolation and render them so raw and realistic that I doubt anyone could read this book and not say, “Wow, so that’s what it feels like.”

The sequel, The Treatment, is set for an April 2014 release, and it’s going on my “like white on rice” TBR shelf because despite The Program’s flaws, I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. I can’t wait to see what happens to Sloane & Co., whether anyone beats The Program, and if there are any explanations regarding what led to the major flaw in logic that convinced adults the best way to treat an epidemic of teenage depression was to put more pressure on them to appear healthy and, if they failed at that, take them away from their lives and erase their memories and personalities. (Because really, guys? Really?)

Your move, Young.


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