This book is 80% romance + 20% sci-fi. I love the premise and the real-life issues that The Program builds upon, but the pacing was a bit too slow for my liking (because of all the romance). But this series is begging me to finish it, and I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS UGH. I’m still trying to educate myself on trigger warnings, but I think it’s good to mention that they seem applicable to this review, as I will touch on depression and suicide in the context of this book.
In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.
Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone — but so are their memories.
Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.
THEME: Very important, and I like how The Program highlights youth suicidality as a major theme. When we think of “epidemics”, most people might think about infectious diseases like smallpox or Ebola. However, this term has also been used to address teen suicides in recent years. In the US, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people between 10-14 years of age, compared to the seventeenth among people over the age of 65 (CDC, 2015). Risk factors for attempting suicide include suicidal behavior of a friend or family member, previous suicide attempts, same-sex attraction, school problems, and drug abuse. I think Young chose a very important theme to base a science fiction work upon, as the issue (although not the solution) is a realistic/feasible one. It’s interesting to note that despite this unique theme, the portrayal of teen suicide in the book is very similar to how zombie apocalypses are portrayed, and I can almost feel the panic in the air just from reading certain scenes.
PLOT: Not much happens, although anticipation is built up for the sequel. Like I mentioned, the solution offered by The Program is not a realistic one, and it seemed too simple and rough (as in, why hasn’t the world reacted to the ethical implications of this solution?). I guess that’s why there’s so much romance and drama? To be honest, I started skimming through the romance because it was repetitive and, in my opinion, didn’t contribute much to the storyline after the first two or three scenes. I want to read about what happens next in the sequel, partly because not much happens in this first book. The Program also feels like other dystopian novels I’ve read, such as Uglies, The Forsaken, or The Maze Runner… but I guess that’s what this genre has always been like: something is wrong with the world, people realize that something is wrong with the world and a rebellion starts, the world is changed for the better.
CHARACTERS: Realistic for this premise, but hard to connect with. Sloane and the other teens are realistic in that they have to hide all of their unhappy emotions inside, while presenting a fake, happy exterior so that they don’t get put into The Program. I can sympathize with them, but it’s very difficult for me to empathize with them because I’m scared of melting into a pool of negative emotions myself. (Ah, the joys of being a highly sensitive person.) I view Sloane’s family as dysfunctional, and Sloane’s relationship with James as an unhealthy one (maybe due to the first point). (I also feel annoyed that the parents are never on the protagonist’s side in these kinds of books…) Not really the book’s problem, but rather more of me not wanting to feel what the characters feel.
ROMANCE: TOO MUCH, too polygonal! 🔺 It is particularly because of this reason that I’m both scared and excited about the sequel, because I’m guessing that it’s going to be the same fluff and angst. Also, not liking that love triangle that appeared and disappeared just like that.
The Program has a great premise, but it fell short of my expectations of a fast-paced, complex book. I’m hoping that The Treatment makes up for all the shortcomings in this one, but I don’t know if I’ll be in the mood to read another dystopian novel anytime soon.
Have you read The Program?
How do you feel about the combination of mental health + sci-fi?