Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: The Program by Suzanne Young

Title: The Program
Author: Suzanne Young
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 405
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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.

The Program immediately caught my attention with its eye-catching cover and description. I love reading about conspiracy theories in my free time because I'm a nerd with nothing better to do, so when a book comes along that sounds like it might be up that alley, I'm definitely going to take notice! I didn't really know much about this going in other than what was on the inside cover, but I had high hopes for a conspiracy laden novel in the same vein as The Twilight Zone!

Sloane is the main character in The Program. She and her boyfriend James are navigating their lives and trying to survive without getting flagged for The Program, where people inevitably come back as shells of their former selves, memories missing. Anything could send them there - even crying - as the country panics to save their young adults from the suicide epidemic. And so, Sloane doesn't allow herself to show emotion except when she's with James. As her life falls apart around her and one by one her friends are either taken into The Program or "terminate" themselves, it's obvious that it's only a matter of time until she ends up in one of the two categories.

I liked Sloane for the most part. She fought like a champ, refusing to give up and lose her memories, and never stopped fighting even to the last page. I could definitely admire her will to survive The Program and come out in tact. It felt like I was there with her as she experienced the hopelessness of knowing she was really at the mercy of those around her. I didn't fully understand the decisions she made in every instance, especially when it came to Realm, but I still liked her.

The two love interests (you knew there would be a love triangle) were James and Realm - James from before and Realm from The Program. I didn't fully love either of them, and if I had to pick one of them to "win" I'm not sure who it would be. Both cared about her deeply, although Realm did some pretty reprehensible things. James was obnoxious and arrogant, but Sloane seemed to find that endearing. Either way, I enjoyed both of them and the love triangle actually made sense in this story rather than detracting from it.

I also enjoyed the more minor characters of Lacey and even Miller. The parents in every case really got under my skin. They all seemed incredibly weak and deluded. It makes me wonder how people might really react if something like this were to occur.

Suzanne Young did a great job of bringing this not-to-distant-future world to life! There weren't many locations featured, but the Program facility especially seemed to come off the page in a totally creepy way. I could definitely feel the dread of the characters as they roamed the stark white halls and smelled that hospital scent. I felt like I was right there sneaking around with Sloane and Realm (or James) throughout the book.

The other setting I felt was really well-done was the river. It was written in such a way that I could understand the peace that came over Sloane when she was there, especially when the rest of her life is so chaotic and depressing.

Speaking of depressing, that's what this book is. Granted, it's about a world with a suicide epidemic among young people. Still, I didn't realize just how bleak a world I'd be diving into with The Program. There are brief moments of happiness here and there, but for the most part I felt like I might get flagged while reading this book!

Perhaps that feeling is part of the originality of The Program, or maybe it's just because I usually steer clear of anything that's not going to give me the warm fuzzies at the end. I'm not quite sure if there's supposed to be some deeper commentary on problems in the mental health system, but I wasn't really in a mood to contemplate that much further. Please fill me in if you know something I don't!

In any case, The Program is pretty unique, at least among the books that I've read. The story, though bleak, did draw me in and make me want to find out what was really going on! Unfortunately, I didn't find out. I felt like there needed to be more backstory - more answers about what caused the epidemic and where The Program came from. There was one (what I assume was supposed to be) big twist, but it was actually quite predictable, although I'm still at a loss of whether or not the epidemic is something deeper and more sinister. The ending was satisfying though, and didn't end on a huge cliffhanger.

  In Closing 
I really did enjoy The Program even though I'm a little hung up on the depressing nature of the book (about an epidemic of depression and suicide). I'll definitely read book two to find out what happens next, although I don't feel a huge rush to do it right this second.