Title: The Program
Author: Suzanne Young
Series: The Program, #1
Length: 11 hours
Narrator: Joy Osmanski
Original Publication Date: 2013
Genre(s): Young adult, Dystopian, Science fiction
As teen suicide rates skyrocket, the government declares it an epidemic amongst minors and establishes The Program. High-risk teens are flagged if they seem depressed, lonely, anxious, and/or suicidal. People known as Handlers then take the teens to The Program, where they are treated for their mental illness. Only they aren’t really being treated—they’re being wiped clean. Their memories are being erased—stolen—and they are forced to re-enter society as a blank slate. They aren’t suicidal anymore, but they aren’t themselves anymore, either. Sloane is one of those teens. Her brother and friend committed suicide, and her best friend and boyfriend are stolen by The Program, completely forgetting who she is, forever. With everyone she loves gone from her life, Sloane isn’t sure she can hold herself together anymore. She’s not sure she can fake happiness without them. She has two choices: kill herself, or let herself be taken by The Program. What would you do?
The Program is told in first-person from the perspective of Sloane, and is divided into 3 books and an Epilogue. Sloane is struggling to hold her life together after her brother’s suicide. Since that tragic day, she grows ever closer to her boyfriend James, who was also her brother’s best friend. But when James starts losing his grip on reality, becomes “sick,” the Program swoops in and takes him. And Sloane is next on their list.
Residing in Sloane’s head is an emotional roller coaster. You’re right there with her through her love, lust, sadness, fear, and desperation. And it’s palpable. Everything she went through punched me in the gut. I don’t know if it was the excellent writing or just the raw emotion of her experiences, but I became totally absorbed into this book. I like Sloane and James as a couple, maybe even more so post-Program. Their love gives me life.
Sloane, as the main character, is highly relatable and sympathetic. As all teenagers do, she made some dumb decisions, but I couldn’t really blame her—her mind was more scrambled than scrambled eggs. I found her progressively more annoying, but not to the point where I disliked her. James, though a dick at times, gave me butterflies. Yeah, I know, it’s like I’m 15 again and boy crazy… Leave me alone!! A girl can daydream. As for the other characters, the only 2 that seemed to really play a part in the novel was Realm (who is a dickhead until the end, in my opinion) and Lacey (lovable, rebellious, best friend-material).
The book filled me with a lot of emotions. It was tough to read about kids killing themselves. Teen suicide isn’t an easy topic to tackle. But I think Young handles it pretty well, in such a fictionalized setting. The themes I’m more interested in is the importance of memories, and the distinction between past and present. I found it fascinating to think about what I would do in such a situation as this. I guarantee I would have been flagged early on, what with my constant anxiety and sporadic crying sessions. Would I rather kill myself, or lose my memories? Each is a certain kind of death. It’s a pretty depressing game of Would You Rather. But Young brings into question whether the past is truly worth holding on to. On one hand, your past experiences makes you who you are; on the other hand, the past is just that—past—and is often remembered incorrectly and nostalgically better than it really was. So what would you do? And if you did choose to lose your memories, your past, and someone gave you the chance to remember it all again, would you? Would you give up your clean start? It’s a tough thing to think about, but it’s fascinating to me. I love books that make you think, and this one certainly did that for me.
Though long, The Program never had a dull moment. I was on the edge of my seat until the very end. I’m curious to see what will happen in the sequel. The Epilogue basically set up a very trope-y dystopian series ending, so I have a feeling I know where all this is going: the typical government vs rebels thing. I see there’s a total of 6 books in the series, and that worries me a little. When I was younger, I had more time to read endless series. Now I kind of want standalones, duologies, or trilogies. Maybe even a 4-part series now and then. But six books? I don’t know if I can stay loyal for that many books. If they’re all as good as this one, maybe they have a chance…
As for the narrator, I liked her voice, except when she was narrating a male’s dialogue. She would lower her voice all weird and give it this cocky inflection and I wasn’t a fan. Other than that, flawless reading.
I almost decided not to read/listen to this, but I am thrilled that I did. My second audiobook was much more of a success than my first. I’m excited to see where Sloane and James end up, and how the series will progress. It’s been a while since I’ve added this series to my TBR, but better late than never, right?
“I think that sometimes the only real thing is now.”
“I want to be me, and yet I’m not sure who I am.”