The Treatment – a review (spoilers)

This will be a long review (or essay)… but I have so much I want to discuss!

The Treatment, by Suzanne Young, picks up where The Program left off. Being agonisingly left on tenterhooks by the first novel, I made sure I had the sequel in my hands days after finishing the first.

Check out my review of The Program for a quick recap. If you’re way too impatient…

The Program follows Sloane as she fights to avoid the clutches of the Program, which aims to “cure” her of her depression. The cure involves removing all memories the Program believes to be a threat to a person’s well-being. Despite all her efforts, she was eventually flagged after her boyfriend, James, was taken. All her depressing memories were erased, including those of James, who the Program believed to be a critical reason for her depression.

Against the odds, Sloane and James found each other and recovered a few key memories. They proved as a threat to the Program and its success, and have been on the run ever since.

Back to The Treatment

Sloane and James are still on the run from the Program. They are deprived of their memories, however they now have possession of the Treatment, a pill which has the power to restore all memories. But, they only have one.

While on the run, Sloane and James are constantly plagued with the burden of the Treatment. Does Sloane take it, or James? Or do they hold onto it in the hopes of it being replicated?

To me, I thought the answer was pretty obvious: have the pill replicated. But I never could comprehend the mentality behind their decision making. They didn’t want to remember, they wanted to live in the now, and remember only the events since the Program. Why?

The first novel ended with a few things I thought would be explored more in the sequel. For example, the epidemic was spreading, affecting adults, not only teens. Such themes, to my disappointment, were not addressed in this novel.

In The Treatment, just as many if not more questions are left unanswered. The reason behind the suicide epidemic starting? An answer is offered, one that sounds more and more like Suicide Club (a girl suffering from depression seemingly convinces her friends to kill themselves together with her), but the answer is dispelled just as quickly as it is offered: “The Program is breeding suicide” (319). The constant fear of being admitted into the Program drives teens to depression. So, was there ever an epidemic?

Forgiving the mother
Sloane seems to forgive her mother, at least after some hesitation and therapy, for admitting her into the Program. I think she had to forgive her mother. If Sloane had taken the Treatment (as she contemplated), then she never would have forgiven her mother, because her mother was the greater evil. Greater than the Program. Not knowing what she lost of herself in the Program makes it easier for her to forgive, because she is of the belief that her old life was full of so much pain, enough at least to warrant treatment. The new Sloane may believe her mother’s choice was for the best. That, and having James’ memories to help; builds the foundation for a closer relationship.

Lobotomies
The one thing that confuses me most about this novel is the lobotomy. Not the why, but the how. Specifically, how did the Program manage to get permission to perform such a treatment on minors? Was that part of the admission stage? Because that itself raises more questions. As I understand the process:
1. You can be admitted to the Program by a parent/legal guardian, or
2. The Program just snatches up at-risk teens.
Concerning 1., so the parents sign a waiver, or give permission for any treatment to be made, including invasive and dangerous procedures like a lobotomy?
Concerning 2., how is permission, of any kind, granted? They are minors. Do they belong to the State? Do they seek parent’s permission? Can a parent refuse? (Both the lobotomy and/or the Program altogether.) Perhaps this was answered in the first novel, to my recollection it wasn’t. I am open to debate.

Perhaps in the world of the narrative, the Program does not need permission?

Roger
How the hell did he get the job as a handler? Why was he offered the Treatment by Dr. Evelyn Valentine? Was he a playful little kitten before he turned evil?

Realm
Bloody coward! Instead of giving Sloane the option of taking the pill (and leaving fate in her hands), along with all his cryptic messages about whether or not she’d forgive him, why not instead just tell her the truth about who he is? I would have kicked him in the boingloings! If you’ve experienced betrayal, you’ve experienced the worst feeling in the world; unforgiveable, and I completely understand Sloane not wanting to speak to him again.

The ending
Part of me is disappointed the ending was not a sad one. With a story/plot such as this, I couldn’t believe the ending would be anything but sad. I was waiting for a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest type ending.

I won’t lie though, I wanted those crazy kids to make it out of there but the realist, the pessimist in me didn’t believe it to be possible. The orchestration of the escape (right before Sloane’s lobotomy) seemed too smooth.

Enough about the story.

The writing
I was certainly not disappointed by Young’s style. As I mentioned in my review for The Program, I thought her writing was beautiful but unembellished, and complemented by gorgeous imagery. Even when it was macabre it was gorgeous, for instance how Realm talks of his suicide attempt.

One of the most beautiful, yet sad lines in the novel is when Sloane ponders whether she is “just a replacement of the girl [she] used to be” (75). It also sounded like a nod to Young’s other series concerning the Program, The Remedy. But, it’s when Dr. Arthur Pritchard comments on the reality of human nature, that I get a chill down my spine: “Human beings are cruel creatures. And what we don’t understand, we tamper with until we destroy it” (133).

Revelation
A revelation just hit me: the Program seeks to rid empathy. Sloane and James (all characters for that matter) try so hard not to let depression conquer them; they forbid themselves from crying, from feeling what is most natural – empathy; a capacity to understand. When one hears sad news, the other stops themselves from feeling lest they should be considered ‘at-risk’.

It is heartbreaking to imagine that ‘normalcy’ means being deprived of empathy.

I rate this book a Fox in Socks.

The scale:
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
3. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
4. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Read more about the scale here

The Program – a review

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.

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:
0. 50 Shades of Grey – E. L. James
1. Fallen – Lauren Kate
2. Dune – Frank Herbert
3. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
4. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
5. Fox in Socks – Dr. Seuss
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
7. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
8. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
9. Wormwood: A Drama of Paris – Marie Corelli
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Read more about the scale here