This book blew my mind.
The Program by Suzanne Young is based on the premise that teenage suicides have skyrocketed. One in three teens will commit suicide; it has become an epidemic. To combat the problem, “The Program” was developed and contracted to school districts across the US. Sloane and her boyfriend James live in one of these districts. They are both personally acquainted with suicide; Sloane’s brother Brady, who was James’s best friend, killed himself in front of them. Sloane’s best friend Lacey has been sent through The Program, leaving her boyfriend Miller behind, a depressed mess. As the book opens, Lacey returns from The Program, and the three witness her transformation. The Program erases “dangerous, infected” memories, leaving behind a shell of a person. Lacey does not remember any of them.
It was only a matter of pages before I was caught up in the raw emotions of the novel. It’s been a long time since one has enflamed me so – I keenly felt every injustice Sloane faced throughout the course of the story. I worried along with her as she stressed about being watched as a potential suicide risk. I panicked when James was taken away for treatment, and I felt a deep loss as Sloane herself was admitted into The Program (no spoiler there – it’s obvious it’s going to happen from the start). Throughout her treatment, I found myself thinking “No, no, no! Stop!” as her memories were taken from her.
I was very much engaged in this story.
The Program is definitely not for children. It has some graphic scenes – Sloane self-harms, we see several characters poison themselves and die violently, one of the employees of The Program drugs and sexually assaults female patients, and there is frank sexual discussion.
Actually – let’s take a brief detour, here – that’s one of the things I really appreciated about the book. Sloane and James have a sexual relationship, and while there’s no actual description of what they’re doing, it’s obvious that they are being intimate. Sloane’s counselor keeps trying to define James as a bad boy sexual predator, but Sloane defends their relationship and insists that although they are having sex as teens, it is consensual and they use protection. You very rarely see that in lit! It happens constantly in real life, folks, so it’s always a pleasure to see it addressed in literature.
Part of the reason The Program was so engaging is that it seemed very real. Parents committed their children into The Program because their only other alternative was to hope they wouldn’t try to kill themselves. There was that real sense of a lack of control; it gave me flashbacks to my teenage years when I’d get so mad over not being permitted to do something or go somewhere. Everyone in the story acted very human; you could even tell the villains had a real motive. They’re making tons of money off The Program – it’s good business, so they don’t really care how their “clients” feel about having their memories erased. There’s a lot of background talk about how The Program has excellent success rates, they’re picking up contracts all across the US, even foreign countries are starting to look at them; teens who run are flagged in Amber Alerts; their business is driven by positive statistics.
Perhaps most chilling, shortly after I finished the novel, I found an article on CNN that talks about how a California school district has hired a third-party firm to monitor its students’ social media. They claim to have already been successful in preventing 3 suicides.
How far off are we, really, from implementing something like The Program? It would be very profitable, and you know everything in the US is driven by money and big business.
Let’s hope they don’t develop the medication to selectively erase our memories anytime soon.