Usually I like the books that I read. There are very few books that I do not like to some extent. Most books that I leave unfinished are not books I dislike but books that I just don’t have much interest in at the time. I generally finish all the books I start eventually because each one has some redeeming quality that I can latch on to and appreciate.
And I suppose that remains true about the Program despite the fact that I rated it so lowly.
Before I explain why I rated the book so low, I should begin by telling you a little bit about the plot. In Sloane’s world teenage suicide is a world-wide pandemic. Teenagers everywhere – for whatever reason – are increasingly depressed and prone to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. The adults of the world have been driven to drastic measures and require teenagers to attend mandatory therapy in school, fill out daily surveys about their feelings, and constantly be wary of the watchful eyes that are always on them. ‘Handlers’ walk through school hallways looking for any sign of depression or sadness and if you look too sad they may tag you and take you away to The Program.
In the program, they cure you. But their cure is not some sort of in-patient therapy. It’s a complete memory wipe. Well, at least a partial one. Nothing else has worked so they decide that they have to take away the sad thoughts and the bad thoughts entirely… along with anything else that’s happened to them in the period of time that those bad memories and thoughts developed. Understandably, Sloane and her friends are determined to avoid losing everything that they think makes them who they are. They don’t want to lose their memories. They don’t want to lose their relationships – their friendship, their relationships, etc. And so they rebel against the system and do their best to survive until they are eighteen and can avoid being sent away to the Program.
I liked the characters and I found them all to be rather compelling. I liked Sloane, James, and Miller. Their friendship was something tangible and real. They had a lot of little things that meant a lot to each other. I also liked the way Miller reacted to losing his girlfriend to the Program’s memory wipes and I felt for him and the others as he kept desperately trying to reconnect with her.
Other than that though?
I felt very uncomfortable throughout the entire book. These kids obviously had some problems. Sloane herself is depressed after losing her brother to suicide and she did things like burning herself intentionally. Despite feeling depressed she and her boyfriend lie and pretend that they are not. I thought maybe in this world there was some sort of explanation where the Program was some sort of lie and the teenage suicide pandemic was some big lie by the government to control kids. I figured that would be a plausible explanation.
But it seems like the whole teen suicide thing? It’s really real. Like, it’s an actual problem. There are kids all over the world killing themselves at an increasing rate and no one seems to know why. Therapy doesn’t seem to work. Once the kids are taken over by the depression it’s not long before they are trying to commit suicide. Like, it’s an actual problem. Some of the kids – Sloane included – may have been pushed to the whole depression thing by the idea of losing their memories if they were too sad. But for the most part the book seems to admit that it’s a problem.
So, yeah, the Program is very serious and I don’t know if I would agree with it but it seems to be a genuine response to a genuine problem. So all the fighting back against the Program and all the psyche evaluation just seems like angsty teenagers with real problems refusing to get mental health treatment that they actually do need. And that was what really bothered me. The book applauded these kids for hiding their problems. It seemed like the kids who actually had problems and admitted to them and got in-school counseling were fine. It was the kids that hid it all and who needed immediate intervention who went to the Program. And sometimes the parents or the school was way too overzealous in pulling people and sending them away but still.
All I got from this book was that these kids were pissed at the way the world was and the fact that they couldn’t just be depressed and go off themselves as they liked. Meanwhile the rest of the world was desperate to find a way to deal with a pandemic that was killing off people left and right. I’m not defending the Program and the fact that it wipes these kids’ memories but at the same time I understand how society would have gotten to that point if literally no other treatments were working with so many of these kids and they were all going around killing themselves. It’s like… I’m sorry they decided to erase the last three years of your life but what happened in those three years is why you tried to kill yourself or you were depressed and removing those memories has saved your life so… It sucks but you get a second chance, right?
I don’t know. I understand why the kids were upset but I just felt uncomfortable about the anti-mental health treatment vibe I got from the book as a whole. It doesn’t seem like the right message to be sending teenagers.