Rating: 4.5/5 stars
So, I was lucky enough to be send a review copy of The Program by Suzanne Young from Simon & Schuster Australia, which is the first book in a duology I believe. For a basic synopsis, the story follows a girl named Sloane (SOMEONE TELL ME HOW TO PRONOUNCE THIS), who lives in a world in which suicide has become an international epidemic. In order to attempt to control these outbreaks of teen suicides, schools take on an experiment called “The Program”. In this program, the infected subject is taken away and returned six weeks later with basically no previous memories. To avoid being “flagged” as depressed, Sloane is forced to hide her problems, her tears and any other emotions that aren’t focused on happiness and well-being.
This book was ridiculously captivating, and I literally read the entire thing in one sitting. I rated it 4.5/5 stars, and the only reason it didn’t quite reach 5 stars is because I found the first 100 pages of the book to be quite slow, and I wasn’t entirely hooked during that time. I assume that because this is a dystopian(maybe?), there is a bit of world-building, which may have contributed to the overall slowness seen in the beginning of the novel.
I had heard about this book before and I was very intrigued by the idea of suicide as a contagious disease. Also, I had heard great ratings for it, so I definitely went into this book with high expectations, which isn’t always the right way to approach something. When first venturing into this novel, I liked the idea and how it was panning out, but I felt like the world was flimsy and that not enough background and history was provided for it to be a reliable plot line. Obviously, these feelings changed dramatically as the story went along, though I still believe that there should have been more world-building incorporated to truly flesh-out the epidemic and its effect.
Characters, characters, characters….Okay, so I liked these characters. I cared about what would happen to them (marginally), but the only character I really connected with and truly cared about was Realm. Obviously, he was set out as trustworthy and reliable for reasons that became apparent later on, but compared to the other characters, he just had so much more life. However, this could have to do with the fact that Sloane and the others had to hide their darker emotions for fear of being flagged. Either that or they were just bland. It’s not that I minded them; they were perfect representations of the effect that the epidemic was having on its victims. Just my opinion, but a little more life in them would have helped.
Excluding the first 150 pages, I LOVED the plot in this story. It was thrilling and emotionally moving, sometimes even a little bit frightening. I mean, ROGER. The story moved along so beautifully that I found myself frantically flipping the pages until it was past midnight. The fear and anticipation in this novel felt so ridiculously real, almost as if it were our world today. The world Young created is not too far a stretch from our own, and that in a dystopian (still not sure if it is?) or a thriller novel is very integral in making the story real and therefore more frightening. Ever wonder why they put “based on a true story” at the beginning of horror movies? Yeah, that’s why. You begin to connect to the story, which builds up the fear, and that is exactly what The Program did.
Overall, this was an incredible book and I am very much looking forward to reading the next book (The Treatment), hopefully soon. I definitely highly recommend it, except that I would warn readers of a trigger warning, because reading about suicide (even if fictionalised) can be difficult, especially if you have known someone who has experienced it. But moving away from that dark note, The Program was absolutely thrilling and vivid to the point of frightening. AMAZING book. Gold star for you Suzanne Young.