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The Program by Suzanne Young

The Program by Suzanne Young

The Program (Program 1)

By: Suzanne Young

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Rating: 3 Stars

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.


Reactions to The Program will differ I think based on which of these two scenarios you were expecting:

A) a thought provoking treatment of teen suicide
B) a typical dystopian that co-opts yet another attention grabbing premise only to degenerate into the same evil government conspiracy keeping apart the star crossed lovers plot

If you thought B), The Program is a perfectly fine book. Ignore this review and enjoy the book for what it is. Personally though, I thought A), so my reaction went from intrigued, to somewhat disturbed, before finally settling on disappointed. Suicide is, don’t get me wrong, a serious issue of mental health, but while I certainly don’t expect every young adult book to handle it with the grace of say, Karen Healey’s The Shattering, I do think Suzanne Young could have done a much better job tackling the issue rather than just using it as gimmicky setup fodder for an otherwise average dystopian.

Then again, it’s no wonder the strongest elements of The Program are in the first of this three part book, when Young seems to be actually writing about suicide. Normally, I’d find the idea of people in white lab coats just waiting to haul kids away at the first sign of mental illness ridiculous, but in this case combined with the depictions of rampant depression and the threat of the radical fix provided by The Program, I had a lot to chew on. I liked trying to figure out whether Sloane was an unreliable narrator because she could’ve been depressed herself (explaining her attitude towards The Program), looking at the situation from the parent’s point of view (which for once is actually believable for a dystopian, I totally get why parents would put their kids through The Program rather than standing by, doing nothing, and allowing something bad to happen), and having to decide whether the results of The Program, in lives saved, are worth the costs. Heck, I even liked how Sloane and James sort of had to rely on each other after Sloane’s brother’s suicide, so for a brief while at least, I could definitely say I was intrigued by the whole setup.

Unfortunately, it really was a brief while, because even though thoughts were provoked, they never went anywhere. Instead, it seems to me like Young never really planned to explore the suicide issue in the depth I was expecting and instead just takes an almost simplistic, black and white view to the whole thing. There really aren’t any shades of gray with Sloane and her friends being ‘good’ while The Program is ‘evil’, and where does that lead? Don’t join The Program because you’ll leave a mindless zombie, but what’s the alternative? Denying reality until one day you just off yourself? I just really didn’t feel like it was Young’s intent to explore suicide as an issue; instead her intent all along seems to be for The Program to be the evil government conspiracy doing bad things to Sloane and her friends disguised in this case as suicide prevention and treatment, and it just didn’t feel right without having some sort of effective alternative; Sloane doesn’t want treatment and she doesn’t really want to kill herself either (at least when she’s not sick), but what should she do then? It’s hard to blame a government conspiracy for being evil when they’re doing exactly the kind of thing I would expect a government to do given an epidemic of teen suicide – step in and stop it.

Now that brings me to Part Two and Three, where the book really falls apart. I don’t have a problem with Sloane’s time in treatment or how she tries to beat The Program once she gets out per se, but it’s nothing more or less than any other dystopian plot dealing with government conspiracies or memory loss – although it’s kind of weird Sloane’s magically all better once she arrives without going through any sort of treatment or healing process. Instead, it’s what Young doesn’t say about suicide treatment that really bothers me. What she’s saying I guess is in the world of The Program depression is linked to certain memories, and excising them causes the subject to be cured (ok… incredulous but sure I’ll accept this for the book to work), and yet to fight The Program Sloane ends up looking for her lost memories. The same ones that supposedly made her suicidal in the first place. Wouldn’t she become depressed and try to kill herself again then? Has she really been cured then? Do these plot twists really explore the suicide aspect? Or are they just to set up yet another true love will overcome the evil dystopian government conspiracy induced memory loss plot because Sloane obviously reunites with James on the outside?

I guess my problem is, for a book about teen suicide, The Program isn’t really about teen suicide. The suicide angle ultimately makes very little sense and the treatment aspects of The Program are only superficially explored, the rest of the book is just a generic dystopian that doesn’t build upon the teen suicide premise as much as exploit it for world building points, and that just doesn’t feel right to me.

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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  1. May 15, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I must say that whoever designed that cover needs a good talking-to: the title really needs to be in a different color.

    This premise could have allowed for an intelligent and sensitive look into depression, suicide and mental health issues in general; sound like that didn’t happen here. Shame.

  1. May 16, 2013 at 6:21 am

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