The Program by Suzanne Young
Yes, another dystopian young adult novel book review from In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. I’m a sucker for them! All of the websites where I buy books or that I look at for book recommendations apparently have me pegged as an angst-ridden teenager because these types of books are always at the top of the “to read” lists and I never just click away to something else.
The Program is the first novel in a series by Suzanne Young, a newer (although not brand new, as she has a couple other books already published) writer who daylights as an English teacher. The book takes place in the not-so-distant future when an overuse of antidepressants is believed to have spawned an epidemic of suicides in the teenage population. There is no proof that the medication was the impetus, but as a generation of adults who were heavily medicated become parents of young adults, the rash of deaths is pushed upward of one in every four teens taking their own lives. As the country goes into panic mode over these cases, The Program is created to keep kids for ending it all.
Once a teenager is flagged for The Program, they are forced into a facility where their memories are taken away, one by one. The idea is that if the kids can’t remember the bad things, they won’t want to terminate themselves. The powers-that-be believe that the suicides are a plague and can spread from student to student, so as soon as one is infected, their friends are closely monitored for signs of negative changes and quickly flagged. This process leaves no room for true emotion or time to grieve over losses, as those difficult emotions are instantly interpreted as infection.
It is in this world that Sloane and her boyfriend James are trying to stick together and make it to their eighteenth birthdays, at which time they will be free of the threat of forced “treatment” through The Program. As some of the people closed to them succumb to the infection or disappear into the blank-slate world of The Program, their ability to maintain facades of “normality” is challenged more and more frequently.
The premise of this novel is a good one and allows Young to explore some interesting areas of psychology, especially what makes someone themselves. If their memory has been wiped clean, are they still the same person as when they had a lifetime of memories? Or, how can one trust those around them when they have no background? Just because you were told someone was your friend, how do you know they really were? The chances for manipulation and abuse are rampant within these table rasa teens. These would be awesome discussions to have in a book group or classroom full of teenagers who already question who they are and what they want from life.
When I first downloaded this book, I didn’t realize that it was the first in a coming series of books, but it didn’t take long to figure out that the plot wasn’t going to come to a nice, complete ending by the final page. All along, it is setting the scene for future books, which I must admit is a bit of a downside. In theory, I don’t mind series (and I think they are great for reluctant readers who get caught up in with a tale and characters they love!), but when the book obviously feels like a set-up for what comes next, I must admit to being a bit disappointed. In the case of this novel, I think I may have liked it a bit better if it had been longer, but told a complete story, rather than stopping at what is clearly a jumping off point for book number two.
In the end, the series-format is the only thing that turned me off a bit to this slightly-futuristic novel. Suzanne Young’s exploration of self and memory is one that I found intriguing and created enough questions in my mind that I will definitely be downloading book two when it comes out, earning The Program a solid: