Book Buddies is a discussion-style review that takes place with one of my two buddies. (Learn more and see past reviews here) We both read the book and then have a private discussion about it. We post our discussion as a review on the last Wednesday of each month. You’ll be able to see our similar/different opinions on the overall book, characters, writing style, etc. – just like a regular review. The first half our discussion will take place right here, and the second half will be on Kaitlin’s blog! (Link at the bottom)
The Program by Suzanne Young
Series: The Program #1
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on April 30th 2013
Also by this author: Just Like Fate, The Treatment, The Remedy, Hotel Ruby, The Epidemic, The Adjustment, The Complication , Girls with Sharp Sticks
Format: Paperback (405 pages) • Source: Gift
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble
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.
View Kaitlin’s part of the discussion here.
Some spoilers ahead!
A lot of dystopia books seem to offer some kind of warning or moral about today’s society. Do you think this society, with The Program and the suicide epidemic, could happen in our world?
Kaitlin: This is a question I tend to ask often about the society when reading a dystopian book. Honestly, yes I do think that this could be a possible outcome of our society in the future. Suicide and depression is what I believe to be a national issue that is in our society. People killing themselves due to bullying, mistakes, a mental disorder, etc. There are things like therapy but does that seriously help? Obviously, therapy and other things won’t prevent all suicide, With technology advancing more and more, the pills people took during the Program could be invented. It really intrigues me as well because in this book, it seems that the people that are causing depression are friends or boyfriends. The Program doesn’t wipe out important people, like your parents. So what if a parent is causing depression? Parents in this book seem to be all for The Program and have no problem with sending their child there, but would they really have a problem if they were forgotten? Would they send their own child to The Program knowing that their child was never going to remember them because they were the cause of depression? This is where it get’s questionable on whether The Program could ever become a real thing because of how horrible it is to just take memories and erase them. Normally, people only go through a period of time where they are depressed.
Lauren: That’s a really good point about the parents. They don’t force the kids to live away from them – why not? There are plenty of people out there, in our world at least, who are depressed because of the way their parents treat them, whether it’s because of abuse, too much pressure, or neglect. I agree that technology could definitely change enough to develop these pills to erase memories and this probably could happen – at least in some ways. With the internet being as prevalent as it is, bullying and suicide as a result of bullying happen way more than in the past (I would imagine). There are so many news stories every day about kids committing suicide for various reasons. I don’t know if suicide could ever literally be contagious though. I think that element was kind of a stretch; I think it’s more like suicide continues to happen because of a domino effect. If your friend commits suicide, you may consider the same thing after becoming depressed. It’s an endless cycle. If The Program stopped existing, then maybe suicide in general would stop (for the most part). I can’t really think of an explicit moral of this story except for that the government should not stick its nose where it doesn’t belong.
Most YA main characters are usually trying to find a boyfriend or falling in love during the course of their book. In this one, it’s a bit different – Sloane and James are dating when the book begins. Do you think the book would have been different without him, or without him as her boyfriend from the start?
Kaitlin: Oh this book definitely would have been different without James, even if Sloane and James have just met. (Spoiler ahead) Since James was the main reason why Sloane was sent to the Program, she would have either been sent to the Program a bit later or not even get sent to it at all. If Sloane and James met in the book and started dating I don’t think the impact on Sloane would have been as bad. Since they have know each other for so long and rely so much on each other, it’s like losing your other half. Maybe Sloane and James wouldn’t have dated early enough to realize that they love and need each other. If they just liked each other and didn’t have any thought about love, I’m pretty sure Sloane would be sad but not depressed the way she actually was. This all depends on how long they have been dating and knowing each other.
Lauren: Yeah I completely agree. Obviously she wouldn’t have been impacted as much if James hadn’t gone into The Program. The two of them had such a huge, deep relationship and went through everything together. I thought it was interesting how James kept saying that he would stay strong and keep them together no matter what, yet he was the one who “cracked” first after Miller died. I think it just goes to show how debilitating depression had become in their society and that you never really knew what was going to happen. It seemed like it would set in really quickly.
On page 68, Sloane says, “Would we commit suicide without The Program, or does it help drive us there?” What do you think the answer is?
Kaitlin: I kind of think of The Program like eating (Um, duh of course). If your mom kept forcing dog food on you to eat until you’re 18, eventually you’re going to A) Puke or B) Gradually get used to the taste. That’s how I see the Program: When you’re living unhappily, you will either eventually break from your facade or get used to putting your happy face. The thing is, you hate faking being happy so much, there is a possibility you may kill yourself because there is no way to escape the people on your tail, ready to take you if they see any sign of lingering depression. That’s also what I imagine to be someone who is depressed then commits suicide. They can only fake being happy for so long before they just crumble and give up. So yeah, I do think that The Program encourages suicide. People cannot be perfect and happy all their lives, it’s just not human.
Lauren: Exactly. It’s hard to imagine being 100% happy all the time. It’s a part of the human experience to feel different emotions. It helps you see what’s important and grow stronger. I think in some cases it’s like the chicken and the egg. Did the epidemic actually come first? Or did The Program make it into a much bigger issue than it was, which led to more suicide? I think there could be a bit more background on how the society actually got that way in the first place. Regardless though, I agree. I think The Program definitely drives more people to commit suicide or become depressed. As I said on your blog, if you saw your friend get pulled into The Program and you knew they wouldn’t remember you when they came out, would you be happy about it? Of course not. It’s going to depress you and lead you to the same fate eventually.
Sloane’s parents are fairly present in the book, or at least present enough to greatly impact her story. Do you agree or disagree with how they acted? Would you act the same way as them if you were in their situation?
Kaitlin: I totally disagree with the way they acted and sent Sloane to The Program. I believe part of the reason they sent her, regardless of the fact that she would return different, is because they weren’t aware of how bad Sloane really thought the Program was. Like not remembering who you loved? That’s tough. What got me kind of disappointed in her parents were that they gave up on her so easily. No one asked her if anything was wrong and you knew that they knew that Sloane was unhappy. They didn’t try to help her and instead called up the handlers and took her away. I understand that they believed it was for the best but I just dislike how they gave up on her so easily. If I were in their situation I would probably have given Sloane a chance to explain why she disliked The Program and help her get through her depression. Like I said, I really thought her parents didn’t want to deal with her when they just so easily sent her to the Program. I also know the mom “didn’t want to (send her to the Program)” but let’s face it, if she “didn’t want to” send her to the Program she would have tried everything in her power to make Sloane feel better.
Lauren: I definitely didn’t like her mother. I feel like she was being selfish by calling The Program to take Sloane, just because SHE didn’t want to lose another child. I know that it must have been hard when Brady committed suicide, but I think she acted irrationally with Sloane in order to “save” her. I’m really interested to see what happens with Sloane’s father. It seems like he didn’t agree with her mother but was too afraid to say or do anything differently. I wonder if that comes into play later on, or why he feels that way. I feel like the parents in their society would rather have these empty, memory-wiped children, than have no children at all. That’s definitely the stance that Sloane’s mother took. I can’t really put myself in their shoes because obviously I don’t have kids, but I would be interested to see what some parents out there have to say on this one!
Somewhat spoilery question: Since The Program wipes peoples memories in order to “cure” them of their depression, they usually steer people away from their previous friends and boyfriends. Based on what happens in the book with Sloane’s friend Lacey and boyfriend James, do you think it explores the idea of fate, destiny, or always ending up where you need to be?
Kaitlin: Hmmm, this is an interesting question. I guess it does? I’m not exactly sure because I do believe in this stuff but not to point where I rely on it. Getting out of the Program you are in such a controlled environment, the chances of interacting with people before you went into the Program is pretty rare, especially with people constantly tell you not to. If you can find your previous boyfriend before going into The Program or vise versa, then I have to say fate has got you pretty hard. I don’t like to think that your whole life has been planned out for you but I also don’t like to think we have a choice in what things are “meant to be.” Take for James and Sloane. They have both been in the Program and don’t even know each other afterward but someway somehow, you just can’t separate them. Even after Sloane returned from the Program they had a funny feeling about each other! (Well, at least on James’ end…)
Lauren: I know what you mean. I like to think that no matter what happens in life, you end up where you’re meant to be. But, at the same time, I also think small decisions can impact your path. That’s at least how I feel personally! As for the book, I think there were definitely some hints at that theme. She found herself drawn to James even without knowing anything about him. It could have just been remnants of her memories, but I like to think they’re kind of meant to be together. I think it also kind of implies that The Program may not work long-term. It’s only been around for, what, a few years? They brag about a 100% success rate but that’s only because they don’t care what happens to people over 18 years old. Do those people get depressed later in life? It’s a really interesting concept.
Do you think there’s a deeper reason for The Program aside from curing depression? Do you think their government has other goals with it? Any predictions on that end for the next book?
Kaitlin: Haha, watch the government is going to turn all Divergent on us and turn every Program-ee into zombies who destroy. Honestly, I haven’t thought of that because it just seems so simple, to cure depression. Except, no dystopian book is that simple. I am super excited to find out more about the Program and how our world and society turned into this…hellhole. The epilogue did seem extremely interesting though so I do want to find out more about Realm and all though.
Lauren: Yes me too! I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I just think it’s interesting that everyone, after The Program, ends up kind of brainwashed into being preppy and obviously having no memories. (Also, I haven’t read Divergent lol soooo yeah I”m behind on the times.) I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some other reason for having The Program. Maybe then society becomes really similar and uniform, so they’re easier to control? People who can’t get depressed or act out irrationally… maybe it reduces crime or something? I’m not sure but I’m definitely interested to see what happens next!