Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: "The Program" by Suzanne Young

Holy crap, I loved this book. It's been a while since a story has so gripped me that I felt the need to finish it in one day, and then was disappointed once I was finished that it was over. But Suzanne Young's The Program is one of those novels.

Teen suicide has reached epidemic proportions, deemed a "behavioral contagion." To combat this enormous problem, the only proven course of treatment is The Program. Those who appear to be suffering from depression, or associated with those who are depressed or have committed suicide, are "flagged" at the first sign of a problem, and taken against their will to experience six weeks of drug-induced memory erasure, followed by enrollment in a new school, with a new wardrobe as well as sterile and crisis-free surroundings, where emotions of any kind are frowned upon.

Sloane is trying as hard as she can to hold her life together. Her older brother, Brady, committed suicide before people realized how big of a problem suicide was becoming, and she and her family have never quite recovered from this blow they didn't see coming. But Sloane and her boyfriend, James, who was Brady's best friend, try desperately to keep each other from falling prey to any type of behavior that might lead to their being turned into The Program, even by their own parents. (The propaganda being generated by The Program has brainwashed most parents into "turning in" their children in an effort to save them from themselves.)

When another of their best friends commits suicide, the pressure to keep themselves together becomes too much to bear, and James, and then Sloane, find themselves taken into The Program against their will, although they vow to always remember each other and their love. As Sloane finds her memories being eradicated, she realizes that her depression is disappearing as well, and she starts to wonder whether she is better off sacrificing the good memories she had to help her avoid the crushing ones. But things in The Program aren't quite what they seem, and with the help of friends "on the inside," she tries to figure out what has happened to her, and tries to get as much of her life back as she can, without alerting those monitoring her.

I've tried not to give too much of the plot away because while what happens may not be surprising, part of the power and beauty of this book was watching the plot unfold. Suzanne Young did such an amazing job conveying the crushing depths of despair gripping teens suffering from depression, that you could see why they felt suicide was their only option. She made you care about Sloane, James, and the other characters in the book, that you were torn between wanting them to keep their lives the way they were and wanting them to get help.

I found this book tremendously moving and so compelling; I couldn't believe how quickly I flew through more than 400 pages. This is one of those books that sticks with you after you read it, one in which you wonder what happened to the characters after the story ended. Fantastic.

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