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In the past day have you felt lonely or overwhelmed?
Has anyone close to you ever committed suicide?

In Sloane’s world, depression is contagious. Suicide is an epidemic. And The Program is the only solution.

Teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen are constantly scrutinized. One wrong move, one wrong show of emotion, and they’re flagged for The Program, where they’ll have their memories systematically erased in an attempt to cure them of their illness. Unfortunately for Sloane, that means that she can’t grieve the death of her brother. Her boyfriend, James, her brother’s best friend, can’t grieve the loss either. So they prop each other up, only cry when they’re alone, and do their best to avoid The Program.

I get that The Program is supposed to big this big, ominous presence. I get that it supposedly helps. But I can’t help but think that without The Program, there would be less depression and less suicide. Sloane’s brother dies and she can’t even cry about it without fear of being flagged for The Program. Her best friend is taken into The Program, and she’s not allowed to be upset, not allowed to miss her. Handlers roam the halls of her school, watch her while she’s trying to learn, just waiting for her to show some sign of emotion so that they can cart her away. A pamphlet for The Program sits next to the phone in her home, reminding her that she needs to keep her guard up at all times. Keeping sadness, anger, and grief bottled up like that isn’t a good thing.

I thought that the premise of The Program was very good, but the execution could have been a bit better.

For one, Sloane wasn’t even suicidal when taken into The Program. It seemed that her mother had been brainwashed into believing that preemptively erasing her daughter’s memories would prevent her from becoming suicidal. Her father, who didn’t seem to be on board with The Program, just wasn’t able to convince her mother otherwise. Her Handler, Roger, obviously had a creepy obsession with her. There was no psychological evaluation done upon entry into The Program – the doctors simply began medicating Sloane and erasing her memories because they could. This part didn’t really make sense to me. There are a limited number of facilities participating in The Program, and each facility can only hold a limited number of kids. With suicide as an epidemic, wouldn’t you want to reserve those spaces for kids who actually need them? So, I wonder, why is no evaluation done? They just take the parent’s or teacher’s – or creepy Handler’s – word for it?

Second, I didn’t understand the limited supervision at the Wellness Center. Sloane goes there almost immediately after being released from The Program, where she immediately meets up with her former boyfriend and former best friend, both of whom have also recently returned from The Program. The Program evidently makes no effort to ensure that these kids don’t just fall back into old patterns. It took weeks for James to be erased from Sloane’s memory. Why would the people who run The Program risk that by letting them socialize immediately upon returning? Also, if depression and suicide are contagious, and returners are fragile in their post-memory-wipe state, why aren’t non-returners screened before going into the Wellness Center? That part made so little sense to me.

Finally, how do people come across these “special” pills? At Sloane’s therapy sessions, she has to take a pill to open her up, and a pill to make her forget. She soon finds that Roger, her creepy Handler, also has pills to help her hold on to her memories, if she’s just willing to do what he asks in exchange for them. How does Roger get these pills? Realm, who Sloane meets at The Program, mysteriously gifts her an orange pill, which will restore her memories if she wants it to. Where does he get that pill? (And I thought the memory loss was permanent.) Are there other special pills? What is the point of The Program if people are just walking around with pills to reverse its effects? And how do these seemingly random people get access to these pills? Why were they even manufactured to begin with?

I think I’m just a little disillusioned about dystopias right now. I used to be a huge fan, but like I’ve said recently, I kind of feel like I’ve read it all by now. Had I read this book at the beginning of my dystopia kick, I probably would have liked it better. Had the book more seriously addressed the suicide epidemic, or explained how, exactly, suicide can be contagious (for example, it’s one of the symptoms of a genetically engineered virus), I probably would have liked it better. All in all, it was entertaining, but not what I expected. I read it over a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, and while it wasn’t a waste of time, I don’t know that I’ll be picking up the sequel any time soon.

Final rating: 

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