I recently finished reading The Program by Suzanne Young, and thought I’d share a review.
Young has created a beautiful, yet haunting dystopian world where suicide is so prevalent among teenagers that it has become an international epidemic, seeing one in three killed. The Program was designed to cure anyone deemed at-risk, the only problem is that although the depression disappears after treatment, the patients come back as empty shells; their memories erased. The protagonist, Sloane, has spent years trying to avoid The Program’s grasp on her, but after the death of her brother, she has become a target. Under constant surveillance, just one tear alone could mean her becoming flagged.
Her boyfriend, James, is the only person who can keep her safe, but even he is falling to the sickness. Depression is slowly taking them both.
When I think of dystopian societies or speculative fiction, I think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and although I do see a few parallels, I’d say that The Program has more in common with the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (in regards to erasing memories). And of course, the ‘suicide epidemic’ is a trope found in Japanese culture; in books and film. Suicide Club is a notable example; one that I immediately thought of when I started reading The Program.
Young delves into a subject that is both sensitive and taboo, and masters it to give us all a glimpse into a world where most of us fear to tread, or fear to understand. What sets this novel apart from a lot of young adult literature that I have read, is Young’s use of unembellished writing. Although there is beautiful imagery throughout, there is no use of overly flowery language. I see this as complementary to the speculative fiction genre; simple, effective, and to the point. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the flowery. In fact I use it all the time, being a lover of works from the Romantic period.
Back to the story. It was such aching torment reading Sloane’s story. The suspense of what was to come and the frustrations of seeing Sloane at her limit, emotionally, were enough to not only make me want to scream, but to make me want to keep reading (and hope that she’d be safe). Young was able to lift her and crush her in a matter of minutes; the novel itself becoming like one epic bout of depression, with all the highs and lows attached. Sloane’s losses became my own. It was frightening. I shared tears with her, and shed tears for her.
One thing that I cannot help but ponder is: why do I like The Program? In our own world, there is still a stigma associated with suicide and mental illness. Some people would rather ignore the subject entirely than have a sit down and talk through it with someone affected, and yet in Young’s dystopian world, as soon as someone show signs of depression, they are sent away to be cured. If you could be rid of painful memories, wouldn’t you want that? Of course, in The Program, you don’t get to decide which of your memories are painful, or which ones are threatening to become your downfall. It’s decided for you.
The only negative thing that I have to say of The Program is that there needs to be a warning on the novel. At least, in my opinion. There are a few graphic scenes describing death and suicide, and moments where characters talk of their own worthlessness. To someone suffering from a mental illness, these scenes can be distressing.
I rate this book a Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
4. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
3. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James
Read more about the scale here