The Program by Suzanne Young

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 405 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Program by Suzanne Young, which was our book club selection for July, is a young adult novel in which young people are sent away to The Program if they show signs of suicidal thoughts before committing the act, and in this world, one can never be too careful because suicide is contagious.  At least that’s what the government would have parents and their teens believe.  Every teen lives under a microscope, and the pressure can be unbelievably intense for those who are friends or, especially, related to someone who has committed suicide.  Sloane Barstow is just one teen of many, but her brother committed suicide so she bottles up as much of her anguish and pain as she can so that her parents don’t think she’s suicidal too.  Her only comfort is in the arms of her friend, and her brother’s, James Murphy — a rough and tumble kind of guy who has mommy issues and doesn’t much like school or his dad.

“Teen suicide was declared a national epidemic — killing one in three teens — nearly four years ago.  It always existed before that, but seemingly overnight handfuls of my peers were jumping off buildings, slitting their wrists — most without any known reason.  Strangely enough, the rate of incidence among adults stayed about the same, adding to the mystery.”  (page 9)

The novel is told in first person point-of-view, so if Sloane doesn’t know the reasons or the actions behind the scenes, neither does the reader.  This leaves the reader and Sloane in the dark, especially when she begins to lose parts of herself.  Her relationship with James is hot and cold, mostly because James has a hard time being vulnerable, but her relationship with her parents is even harsher, with her moods constantly negative toward them and them trying to smother her as if that will protect her from getting sick.  There are a great number of issues to discuss, particularly about what it means to be us — do our memories make us who we are or is it something more? Should the government force teens into treatment for suicidal symptoms and their grief over lost loved ones or should they allow them to handle their own emotions?  Is there some other vast government conspiracy at work?

Young’s portrayal of rebellious teens is spot on in her portrayal of Sloane and James, but there is question that builds in the reader’s mind about whether Sloane and James are in love or merely thrown together by mutual loss.  While there are touching moment between the two and it does seem to be love, there relationship does not evolve beyond the mutual lust and desire for one another, and in many ways, it is based on mutual comfort.  Despite the questions about whether The Program is increasing thoughts of suicide among teens that want to avoid it, at its heart this novel is a love story in a dystopian world where kids have little control of their lives, except to run away.  The parents are not as hands on as one would presume them to be in a world where suicide is an epidemic, there is no real explanation of who runs the program or of why the program is so prevalent other than its 100% cure rate, and the last part of the book seems like it was thrown together to explain a subordinate character’s actions in The Program and outside of it.

The Program by Suzanne Young is a fast-paced romance for young adults that raises a number of questions for book clubs to discuss, and it is enjoyable.  For readers looking for a little more about the setting and The Program or other cures that could have been tried, etc., you’ll be left wondering.  The end opens more doors than closes, and its possible that there could be a sequel in the works.  Sloane and James are strong and rebellious, but even they are not immune from the disease or its cure.  Is it better to forget the past and move forward, or should you reclaim as many of your memories as you can?  That’s still the question.

About the Author:

Originally from New York, Suzanne Young moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She currently resides in Tempe, where she teaches high school English. When not writing obsessively, Suzanne can be found searching her own tragic memories for inspiration.

Suzanne is the author of several books for teens, including THE PROGRAM, A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL, and A WANT SO WICKED.  Visit her on Facebook, her blog, and Twitter.


What the Book Club Thought:

Most members agreed that the book was an easy read, while one wanted more hope at the beginning at least for the reader.  Others thought that they were in the situation with Sloane (probably due to the first person point of view) and could understand how a teen girl would be so obsessed with a boy and only think about surviving, rather than what her future could be like once she hit 18.  At some length the book club talked about the lack of hope in the beginning, which some said was intentional.  Another aspect of the book that people discussed at length was Sloane’s seeming acceptance of the pills given to her by the psychiatrist, rather than fighting to keep her memories as she said she would early on.  The underground aspect of the book that shows up later in the book was examined as a possible conspiracy as well as The Program itself.  However, there is another book to this series, so we’re waiting to see what that brings (at least some of us are).  In terms of whether members would take the pill to bring back all of their memories, some said they would without hesitation, while others said they would think about it and one said he probably wouldn’t.  When asked about whether they would place their own kid in the program, a few said that they would not immediately do so, seeking out alternative means and others suggesting that they would immediately do so.

45th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.