Title: The Program
Author: Suzanne Young
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi, Romance, YA
No one knows why teen suicide has suddenly become an epidemic, but with 1 out of every 3 teenagers killing themselves, adults are desperate for a solution. To them, the program seems heaven-sent. By carefully removing all dangerous memories, doctors can ensure a 100% survival rate for teens who finish.
But 17-year-old Sloane Barstow isn't buying it. The people who return from the program are empty, their minds filled with holes, their pasts stolen. Sloane won't risk forgetting her boyfriend James, the person who saved her after her brother's tragic death. But when depression tears Sloane and James apart, they have no choice but to enter the program. Can their love survive when their memories are gone?
I bought this book because my sister came close to suicide and had to be temporarily institutionalized. She's better now, but the topic still cuts me. I suppose I wanted some insights, and speculative fiction was easier for me to digest than, say, a memoir. As it happened, while I was reading, I learned that comedian Robin Williams took his life, so I think this is an important topic we need to discuss.
Okay, getting off my soapbox now. Onto the book.
The Program isn't really about how depression affects an individual, but rather, how society responds to people with depression. Every morning, Sloane and her fellow students are scrutinized for any sign of unhappiness. They have to lie to the adults and put on a happy act. If they show any weakness, they'll be yanked from their friends and have their core identity shattered. Many would rather die--and do. Which begs the question: is the program saving teens or driving them to suicide?
Unsurprisingly, The Program isn't a light-hearted romp. The first third of the book, in particular, is filled with tragedy and angst. The only break from the depression comes from the romance between Sloane and James, and their relationship is passionate, moody, and intense. The doctors call them co-dependent, and I'm not sure I disagree.
Sometimes it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief. Sloane's world doesn't seem much different from the world we live in today, except for the suicide epidemic and the memory-erasing drugs. But what caused the epidemic? And how did such technology come to exist? Also, the book never explains the correlation between erasing memories and curing depression. Depression isn't just feeling sad because something bad happened. It's a constant state of unhappiness, often triggered by nothing.
Besides this, my sister pointed out that security at the institution was dismal. (We were both stuck in the car, and I was giving her the play-by-play.)
As the book progressed, it became less about depression and more about the romance. Flashbacks fill us in on every major point in Sloane and James' relationship. These flashbacks are well-written and play a crucial role in the plot. But they weren't my particular cup of tea. I preferred the speculative elements.
On the whole, I found The Program to be well-crafted and thoughtful, with enough suspense and drama to keep me reading. Like any good dystopian fiction, it made me think about the kind of society I want to live in. I commend Suzanne Young's bravery for choosing to tackle such a controversial and emotionally-draining topic.