The Program – a review

The Program by Suzanne Young

Hey all,

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.

The Program by Suzanne Young

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.

The scale:
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


Salt in the earth

Taken from my university assessment portfolio.

Salt in the earth, now love can never grow
From a diseased heart in our mother,
the eyes cast over forever.
Draining, dragging, the love is failing.
A falling ecstasy of nothing.
Putrid, decaying, the flesh
Lying to rest, to sleep
never more!

© 2012

Grey cinders burning – original

Taken from my university assessment portfolio.
Compare to the latest version, Grey cinders burning

Grey cinders burning
in the flesh, a swift death
upon a bird’s red-feathered chest,
through an emerald midnight
and orchid freeze

Drifting apart, the black velvet smog.
The storm, a thistle
cutting into the lonely.

A ferry crosses through the crystal haze
and the hoar frost drags
the garden into languid crystalline.

A finger tracing through the milky snow
upon the wildflowers, a sugar coating.
Deep sighs of love, a life has begun.
Heat transcending through the woods,
to put an end to winter.
White-covered insects awakening
from winter’s curse.

Engulfed in radiant rapture,
pewter flakes fall.
The moonlit sorrow of thick desires
carries into eternity the
posies of alice-blue.

© 2012

Notes: This version does differ greatly from the latest, Grey cinders burning. The original was an experiment after completing exercises in helping to beat writer’s block. I created a list of words then went through and picked out every ‘x’ number and formed them into a line or sentence. I have added a small slideshow below illustrating my thought process for the assessment. If you need help in beating writer’s block, I highly recommend this site Language is a Virus.


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Taken from my university assessment portfolio.

Want to read more about the Strigoaicǎ?
Read the short story, The Strigoaicǎ – Published in the 2014 Blue Fringe Arts Short Story and Poetry Anthology.
Read the short story, Tale of the Strigoaicǎ 

Part I
Her smile radiated the wood
and touched me deep within
but I sensed a coldness in her.

She had been scorned
and had become bitter
for it.

Part II

I bled, for his love was within my veins,
haunting me.
The weariness, the sickness
overcame and swallowed me
into darkness.

My eyes, fluttering desperately as my body
tried to resist the call
of unconsciousness.
My fingers curling,
the effort unwitnessed.
Clenching into fists,
and scoring into my face.
They dragged into my skin,
trying to stop the fainting spell.

© 2012

Notes on the poemThe strigoaicǎ (strih-gwah-ih-kah) has her roots in Romanian mythology. Her origins defy the modern vampire, in culture and creation.

Strigoaicǎ is a reflection of a Romanian inspiration in my novel, A Travesty, and it’s one that I like to further explore in poetry and short stories. Writing about my strigoaicǎ helps me understand her character better. There is an emotional and psychological connection between her and the heroine, so I have included two parts in the poem. Part one is from the perspective of the heroine; how she sees the strigoaicǎ, and part two is from the perspective of the strigoaicǎ; one that presents a painful memory of hers.


Taken from my university assessment portfolio. For this particular task, the theme was: emotion.

Fingers crawling, dragging into my skin
Leaving trails of my rage becoming.
Mind is clouded, body shaking
I can feel myself changing.
There is no release, the anger resides
The descent, the torment remains inside.

© 2012