Review: The Program by Suzanne Young

The ProgramTitle: The Program

Author: Suzanne Young

Genre: Pseudo-dystopian, YA contemporary, Social Issues

Publication Date: April 30, 2013

Source: Amazon Vine-provided finished copy

Synopsis: 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.

☆: 1/5 stars – Set the record for the most times I used the word “fuck” regarding a book. BAD THING.

I want to kick this book in its nonexistent nuts, drown it with glee, tear it apart, and let my cats use it as cat litter. These are the degrees of hatred in our relationship. This offensive, anti-science novel with a narrow focus, shoddy premise, no records of previous medical discoveries regarding NUMEROUS things, and generally no idea how to deal with mental illness in a sensitive manner should never have been published. It made me so angry that I lost the ability to speak of the novel, RE-gained it, and must write this very angry review before the weight of this anger makes me implode. There were no words and there suddenly are now.

The only–ONLY–good thing I have to say about this novel is that it’s packaged beautifully. The cover and dust jacket are lovely to behold and the hardcover itself has another image on it, showing us the faces of the models from the cover. It’s smooth, unsettling, and would set the tone for the novel if it were a genuine, sensitive attempt at a dystopian with a focus on suicide. Too bad it’s not!

To start, the characters are nothing to write home about. Sloane only exists within her relationship to James, which is pretty sad to see in 2013 with a female character. Since The Program strips people of everything they are (this is stated multiple times throughout the novel) and the only things they appear to take from her are memories involving James, that seems to point to her love for James being all she is. She has no hobbies, personality traits, or passions. Without James, she doesn’t exist.

The two boys fighting over her suck. James is possessive, jealous, and a bit of a two-face in how he can be decent sometimes (mostly at the beginning of their relationship) and disgusting others (like in his posturing when Realm is around). Realm himself is gross too. He should know better than to pursue Sloane for a number of reasons–one of which involves a twist I figured out halfway through his first scene because he gets away with more than Sloane or another patient would.

The plot and writing are decent, I suppose. Nothing to write home about or remark upon, really. The themes about memory, identity, and if we remain who we are when both are taken away from us could be powerful were it not for the book they were put in. Young wrote them well in A Need So Beautiful, after all. Here? They’re practically thrown out the window by ableist worldbuilding that grossly misunderstands the nature of mental illness.

On your way out, make sure to pick up a stuffed animal, some chocolate, or anything else you might need to cheer you up after this. There is plenty by the door for you.

First off, depression (one of many factors that can lead a person to suicide) and mental illness in general result from chemical imbalances in the brain. Outside factors like an individual’s life can exacerbate it, but a person with an awful life does not necessarily have depression just as a with a great life isn’t necessarily unable to develop depression. Erasing someone’s memories to cure their depression/suicidal urges is like putting burn cream on a herpes sore: it’s not going to help. At all. This is a scientific FACT. Not opinion, not theory. A well-researched FACT. How this research got lost when this is set in the United States in the near-future is beyond me.

Then again, research that indicates crying is GOOD for a person and lobotomies are BAD AS ALL GET-OUT seems to have been lost too. The only explanation for this is that an apocalypse happened. All records of medical research and anyone who knew even a little bit about any of it? Wiped off the face of the earth. Of course, the novel offers no explanation beyond “all these kids are killing themselves for whatever reason” and that’s how we get here. It gives one treatment for mental illness and characterizes it as evil with evil people running it.

This becomes especially problematic when the novel draws parallels between how returners are treated when coming out of treatment and how people in our world are treated when they come out of treatment. Equating this novel’s awful treatment with the treatment so many people desperately need in our world? No! My mother has depression and without medication, she would be a different person from the mother I know and love. This novel reduces mental illness treatment to one inherently evil “cure” for drama, gives it an anti-science slant, and gravely offends me personally.

Even more offensive is how it takes the very real issues of suicide and mental illness and uses them for cheap drama in a pseudo-dystopia. The dystopian society in this novel? All the younger people know it’s bad and the older swear by it. Dystopians have EVERYONE buying the party line. There are no LGBTQ+ or POC characters of note, just straight white people. Japan, Russia, and South Korea are three countries I can name off the top of my head with worse suicide problems than the USA, where this is set in the near-future. LGBTQ+ teens committing suicide? It’s been a bit of major issue in the last three years. Funny how that gets left out here.

If The Program wanted to say something meaningful about suicide and mental illness, it would be more diverse and utilize intersectionality by showing us how gender, race, sexual identity, etc. affect the way an individual or group experiences a problem. This is about nothing but straight white people killing themselves, tipping me off to the fact that his novel uses a very real problem millions suffer from as a cheap plot device. Even the sexual abuse Sloane suffers from one of her caregivers is cheap drama rather than a representation of a very real problem the mentally ill may face while in treatment.

Really, there are many problems with today’s mental health industry and how society treats the mentally ill. There’s misdiagnosis (misdiagnosis of her mental illness nearly killed my best friend’s mother!), physical/sexual/emotional abuse by the people who are supposed to be helping, disbelief from people both inside and outside treatment, judgmental attitudes, and rampant ableism are just a few problems with modern mental illness treatment. Yet this novel does not bother with criticizing any of those when it has the perfect chance to. It wants drama, not genuine messages.

AND THIS IS THE FIRST OF A SERIES. Count me out now and forevermore on anything else in this series and anything else by Suzanne Young in general. THAT is how offended I am by this novel.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Program by Suzanne Young

  1. Review of the year, right here! That, my friend, deserves a huge round of applause. Every single point you hit. Every one. Marvelous.

    • Thank you, Sierra! It was a hard one to write, mostly because it was so difficult to articulate all these problems. I often found myself reduced to banging on the keyboard with the Caps Lock on. I wish I were joking.

  2. Wow. And I thought this would be a pretty meaningful (and a bit unsettling) read. Guess I got that wrong. You would think that an author that had come up with an idea with so much potential would try to make it a thought-provoking, meaningful read instead making it full of drama. And from what you said, the way it handles depression, abuse, and suicide is sickening.
    So not getting this book.

    • You would think so, but this book was one big fat bucket of NOPE. If I were a more aggressive person, I’d ask Suzanne Young about this stuff straight out to see what she has to say about it, but I could see myself getting blocked, getting answers that make me feel like an idiot, or getting answers that would result in me throwing my laptop. I think I’ll just leave it be. A few of my friends have loved it because it tapped into the right emotions for them and they liked the presentation, but I just couldn’t do it.

  3. THANK YOUUU. I thought the book was ok, but I was incredibly offended by the depression/suicide aspects and the way it was handled. I didn’t go into in my review at all because I could’ve ranted forever, so it’s nice to see someone else felt the same thing as I did. I really tried to ignore how I felt about the way depression and all that was portrayed, and if I did that the story was alright, but otherwise, yeah. I think that the story could have been really good if depression would’ve been portrayed and treated differently.

    • You’re welcome, Rachel! This is one book where the ranting would have been worth it. I feel like my review is overlong at 13 paragraphs, but I refused to shorten it and neglect discussing every and every BS aspect that needed discussing. If I’d seen more reviews calling out this fuckery before I asked for a copy on the 25th (that or the 18th; I forget), I never would have asked for it. It hit so close to home and was so outrageously offensive that I couldn’t ignore it. Offensive shit kills a book for me very easily and very quickly.

  4. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 47 | birth of a new witch.

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