I hate The Program and what it does to us, but I also know that I don’t want to die. I don’t want any of us to. Despite everything, our school district has the highest survival rate in the country. So in some sick and twisted way…I guess The Program works. Even if the result is a life half lived.
(from The Program, page 24)
The Program is a young adult novel set in a world where suicide has become an epidemic among teens. In an effort to prevent them from succumbing to their depression, some high schools have implemented the Program, which aims to cure them by erasing their memories. Sloane is grieving the death of her brother and the loss of her best friend to the Program. Neither Sloane nor her boyfriend, James, can express their feelings for fear they will be taken by the Program — either at school, where they are under the watchful eyes of handlers, or at home, turned in by their own parents, who believe the Program is their only hope. They don’t seem to notice or care that the children who complete the Program come home as empty shells of their former selves.
James is the only person Sloane can trust, the only one who can see her cry, and he vows to protect them both from the Program. But when they lose someone else close to them, James starts to unravel, and Sloane must find a way to safeguard her memories of him so that, no matter what, their love will survive.
The Program is an interesting look at how far society and the government will go to protect the next generation, but it soon becomes apparent that the Program doesn’t have the best interests of its patients in mind. Although the cause of the suicide epidemic is unknown, the Program only makes things worse by forcing teens to bury any emotion other than happiness. Sloane, for instance, has to fake an injury to have an excuse to cry and must always pretend for her parents’ sake that everything is just fine.
Suzanne Young tells the story through Sloane’s eyes, so readers understand the depths of her grief and the fear of knowing that every move she makes is being watched, and they follow her as she struggles to hold it together. With the threat of the Program looming overhead, there is little talk about the future — other than trying to make it to 18, when they can no longer be forced into the Program. Given their shared grief and their lack of another emotional outlet, it’s not surprising that Sloane and James’ relationship takes center stage. Of course, Young creates a love triangle, among other obstacles, and between that and the Program, there is more than enough angst and melodrama to go around. I understood why their relationship was so important to Sloane and central to her happiness, but it was also sad that she felt she had little to live for beyond that relationship, and all the memories she wanted to preserve involved James. Honestly, all the “James this” and “James that” quickly became repetitive and even annoying at times. I read this book with The Girl for our July book club meeting, and she did a fair share of eye-rolling throughout.
Still, the idea behind the story is intriguing, and the choice Sloane must make provides much food for thought. The Program did generate a great book club discussion, though most of us had mixed feelings about the book. It didn’t seem as though most of the book club was curious enough to read the sequel, The Treatment, but there were enough loose ends to make me want to know how it all plays out.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Program from the public library.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.