Young, Suzanne. The Program. SimonPulse, 2013.
The teenage suicide rate has ballooned to 33%, making it a national epidemic. No one knows the reason for the growth, but scientists have concluded that suicide is contagious. Teens are constantly watched and monitored by their parents and their teachers. They are not allowed to cry or grieve for their family and friends who have died. Teens who show the slightest sign of being sad or depressed are “flagged” and taken away by handlers, where they are put in “The Program”, a six-week pilot program aimed at getting rid of inappropriate feelings and emotions that could lead to death. Those teenagers come back into society as “returners”--with cleansed memories, but to their parents, they are healthy and emotionally sound.
Sloane Barstow lost her brother, Brady, who drowned himself; her best friend, Lacey, is taken and put into The Program. When Sloane’s childhood friend, Miller, commits suicide by drinking poison, she is terrified that she and her boyfriend, James, will be flagged. Both of them hide their feelings and try to act like Miller’s death has not affected them. James promises that he will keep he and Sloane safe and out of The Program, but ultimately, he is not able to do so.
The Program is beginning of a promising and engaging dystopian series. The novel is extremely character-driven, told in first person by Sloane Barstow. Through her eyes, readers are able to see the fear that teens feel at losing their friends, both to suicide and to The Program. Parents are desperate to save their children at all costs. Doctors and nurses employed by The Program display ruthlessness bordering on child abuse, using force, coercion, over-medication, and manipulation to achieve desired results. Teens are powerless and have no rights. It is they against adults/the government.
James is the perfect boyfriend—handsome, thoughtful, and funny. He would go to the ends of the earth for Sloane, who is stronger than she thinks. Even they are only teenagers, their love feels fresh and real. Although James promises that he will keep them both safe, it is Sloane who must pretend that everything is fine. It is heart breaking and devastating when James is taken, because Sloane knows that when he returns he won’t remember her or what they had together.
I really felt that the true theme of The Program is that love conquers all, and that some people are just destined to be together. Readers won’t be able to resist the romance in the novel or the love triangle that occurs later in the book. I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries. Five out of five fleur de lis!
Reviewer’s note: The copy of the book reviewed was a digital ARC received from Edelweiss Above the Treeline in exchange for an honest review.