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“I’m not complete. I’m missing a huge piece of my heart, memories of things I must have said and done, things I can’t have back. I want them, all of them. I want to be myself again,” Sloane. –The Program
by Suzanne Young
Suicide has become an epidemic, affecting one out of three teenagers. The government and parents are scrambling trying to understand, but are unable to find a source. The Program is considered the only cure. With a 100% success rate, parents think it’s an incredible gift. But teenagers don’t view it the same way, because once you go through The Program, you come back without your memories. You’re happy, but you’re no longer you.
Sloane and her boyfriend James depend on each other to keep up each other’s spirits. They pretend that everything is okay. But after their friend commits suicide, James falls apart and is taken into The Program. Sloane quickly follows, when her mother betrays her by calling the handlers. Once inside The Program, Sloane is determined not to lose her memories. But the drugs the facility use keep her in a constant haze and start whittling away at who she is. Will Sloane be able to keep a hold on who she is? Or is she doomed to become just another happy, vacant shell?
While The Program centers around suicide, it does not go into possible causes of suicide, such as social media or familial issues. In The Program, suicide is like a contagious disease. If someone you know has committed suicide or is depressed, then you’re infected and are likely to follow. While suicide isn’t encouraged, it is dramatized in a way that may concern parents. Multiple teenagers in the story commit suicide not only because they are depressed, but also because they feel like they lack control over their lives. Suicide is how they take their power back. Given that teenagers often struggle with such feelings, portraying suicide in such a manner may be concerning.
The Program contains a copious amount of profanity and questionable sexual content. For example, when Sloane feels like she is losing her boyfriend, her solution is to give him a blowjob. During the blowjob she thinks, “I know I have him back—even if only for a second.” Sloane also trades a sexual favor for a memory and knows it was the right thing to do.
The Program will entertain younger readers, but more advanced YA readers will find several plot developments implausible, which may detract from the story’s enjoyment. The teenagers in The Program are well-developed, but the parents and adults in the book are not. While Sloane is a well-developed character, she lacks the ability to make her own decisions. At first, she is utterly dependent on James. Then, when Sloane loses James, she quickly becomes dependent on another boy character rather than finding her own footing. All in all, The Program is one YA series that may be better left unread.
- Sloane kisses her boyfriend, James, frequently. Some kisses are not graphic, such as when Sloane leaned “forward to press my lips to his, letting him have me in a way that only he can.” Another example is when, “And so I whisper that I love [James], then climb onto his lap and kiss him, as if it’s the last one we’ll ever have.”
- Sometimes James sneaks into Sloane’s room at night. “When he’d stay over, he’d show up in my room at three in the morning, kissing me quietly while everyone slept.”
- Sloane feels like she’s losing her boyfriend, so she gives him a blow job in an attempt to get him back. Sloane “kiss[es] softly at his lips, nearly stopping when he doesn’t respond. Then I kiss his neck, his chest. I undo his button as I kiss his stomach and then lower. And it isn’t until I feel his hand in my hair and hear him murmur my name breathlessly that I know I have him back—even if only for a second.”
- After a camping trip, “James told [Sloane] that when he touched me, when I looked at him, he got a hard-on.”
- Sloane remembers losing her virginity to James. She closes her eyes, “remembering how warm James’s mouth was on mine, how his tongue touched my lips before I opened them, letting him in. Letting him lay me back on the blanket as his mouth found mine, again and again, always gentle, yet urgent.”
- A handler in The Program insinuates he can save one of Sloane’s memories if she gives him a sexual favor. “His eyes narrow deviously then, scanning over my body. . .” Sloane tells him no at first, then changes her mind. “He grabs me roughly. . . His mouth is on mine, wet and strong. . . I can feel how turned on he is as he presses against me. I whimper and try to move back as his tongue licks my lips.”
- Later, when Sloane is angry, the handler says, “I think you’d be a little too feisty to trust with any of my naked parts now.”
- It’s mentioned that “somehow James talked me into a game of strip poker, only he lost.” During the game, James says, “Sloane, when winning means getting you naked, you better believe I’m going to try my damnedest to win.”
- Sloane kisses a boy named Realm four times. “Realm’s lips are soft but unfamiliar. Warm but not hot. My hands hesitate on the sides of his face. . . His hand slides down to pull my thigh over his hip. We could do anything right now; no one is bothering us. He lays me back in the bed, lying between my legs as he trails kisses down my neck.” Another time, “I get on my tiptoes and press my lips firmly to his. Realm responds immediately, surprising me by backing me against the wall, his tongue eagerly finding mine as if he’s been waiting to do this since I got here.”
- A girl teases Sloane, “That’s James Murphy who you’re currently eye-humping.”
- James and Sloane go to a place that “looks like a place where unsuspecting teenagers come to have sex and get murdered.”
- Realm and Sloane almost have sex. “Realm rolls me off the couch, getting on top of me as we lie on the carpet. He’s kissing my neck, his hands searching my body. . . Realm’s hand slides away from my breast.”
- James and Sloane have sex. “We climb into the backseat, yanking at each other’s clothes, tongues tangling in a heat that I know I could never have with anyone else.”
- When handlers come to take Kendra to The Program, she fights them. “Kendra jumps up to run and the handler lunges for her, his closed fist connecting with her face. The shot sends her into Mrs. Portman’s podium before knocking her to the ground. . . Kendra’s top lip is split wide open and leaking blood all over her gray sweater . . . she tries to hold on to anything within her reach, but instead she’s leaving a trail of blood along the floor.”
- In Sloane’s world, “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.”
- Sloane remembers when her friend showed up with “a black eye, cuts up and down her arm” because a guy she was dating “had pushed her out of the passenger door—while the car was still moving.” When Sloane tells James what happened, he finds the guy and “beat[s] the hell out of him.”
- Sloane can’t let her parents know that she’s sad. So when the tears start to spill over, she purposefully burns herself on the stove to give herself an excuse to cry. “I turn over my arm, the tender part exposed, and stick it into the fire. The burn is immediate and I scream out in pain. . . I decide that I like it. I like the pain and distraction.”
- James had tattoos of the names of people he has lost. When his best friend kills himself, he says he can’t wait for ink and carves Miller’s name “jaggedly into his flesh. Blood is everywhere.”
- Sloane’s brother jumps off a cliff and kills himself. “Then I saw Brady—he was floating, facedown. . . I screamed again, pointing toward him as I watched his body slam into a rock, and then another.”
- Sloane jumps off a cliff trying to kill herself, then decides she doesn’t want to die. “Just then my body slams against a rock, hoisting me half-way out of the water. I hold on to it, vomiting up river until I’m sure I’ll pass out and die anyway. My throat burns, my lungs ache. My arm is numb and I think it may be broken.”
- When The Program comes for her, Sloane hurts herself because she’s angry. “Then, just because this is my last moment of having a real emotion, I tighten my grip on my scissors. And I slash my wrist.”
- Sloane punches one of her handlers. “I swing out my arm, punching the left side of his jaw. He immediately recovers and twists my hand up behind my back, cursing under his breath as he slams me against the wall.”
- Realm goes after a handler for bothering Sloane. “Realm has got his forearm to Roger’s throat, pinning him to the wall. . . [Roger] winks, and then gets up to hobble away.” Later Realm attacks the handler again. “He cocks back his arm and decks Roger, sending him flying over the desk. . . Realm grabs Roger’s right arm and yanks it so hard behind his back the snap is audible.”
- It’s mentioned in passing that Sloane’s mom hit her. “Mother slapped me that night.”
- Sloane slaps Realm when she finds out he is part of The Program. “I cross the room and slap him . . . A red handprint is obvious on his face.”
- Outside a community center, Sloane sees a guy die after drinking QuikDeath. “Liam coughs again, spitting blood onto the patio. Red streaks his lips. He’s going to die. . . his eyes momentarily roll back in his head before he focuses on me again. His body convulses. And then he collapses against the door, sliding to the ground.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- The leading theory for the suicide epidemic is “that the oversupply of antidepressants changed the chemical makeup of our generation, making us more susceptible to depression.” The Program is the only cure; a facility that erases peoples’ memories via a series of pills. If patients refuse to take the pills, the medication is given to them via shots instead.
- QuikDeath is mentioned several times throughout the book. Sloane’s friend tries to kill himself with QuikDeath. After taking it, he calls Sloane to say goodbye. “‘It’s too late,’ he says, sounding far away. ‘I took it ten minutes ago. But I couldn’t leave without saying good-bye.’”
- Sloane meets a girl who tried to kill herself with QuikDeath and now has short-term memory loss.
- A girl in Sloane’s class jokes that “Maybe a coffee spiked with QuikDeath would help you focus on the pain.”
- When James hurts himself, Sloane goes “through his dad’s medications until [she] thinks [she] find[s] something that will calm him down.”
- While in The Program, Sloane is sedated often. They give her different colored pills without telling her what they do. If she refused to take the pills, they give her a shot.
- When talking to her father, Sloane realizes “the faint smell of alcohol clings to him. I wonder when he started drinking.”
- Realm drinks a beer.
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: goddamn, ass, and pissed. For instance, when Sloane gets hurt James says, “Goddamn it.” Another time James tells Sloane, “I’m going to kick your ass tomorrow.”
- God, hell, damn, and bullshit are used constantly.
- Once when James is teasing her, Sloane says, “Oh my God, shut up.”
- Sloane often thinks “Oh God,” like “Oh God, I miss him” or “God, I just want him back.”
- James says, “Holy hell, you really were checking me out.”
- After James and Sloane first kiss, James says, “Well, damn, Sloane.”
- While in The Program, Sloane and her friends often play the game Bullshit and call bullshit on each other.
- Sloane thinks, “We’ve seen it before, how someone will piss off their friends or start sleeping around when depression takes hold.” Another time, Sloane tells her therapist “I’m pissed. I want my life back.”
- Smartass, shithead, asshole, shit, and dick are all used several times throughout the book. James tells Realm, “We want to know, shithead.” James also says, “I can be a total shithead” and “I’m a dick.”
- While in The Program, Realm says, “That asshole! What’s he giving you?” Realm also says, “Shit Sloane, I thought this would cheer you up.”
- Bitchy and fuck are used a few times. Sloane tells her therapist to fuck off several times. “I’m not taking the fucking pill, okay.”
- Teenagers suffering from depression are sent to The Program, but once Sloane turns eighteen, she says, “It’s my God-given right to off myself if I so please.”
- Sloane’s parents say, “Thank God for The Program. It’s saving so many lives.”
by Morgan Lynn