Book Author: Susan Young
Book Series: N/A
Genre: Teen and YA, Dystopoan
First Published: March 2013
This book was another one of my pop-sugar prompts: A book about a problem facing society today.
I chose this book for this particular prompt because I feel that mental health is an issue
facing modern day society, along with other disabilities. Especially with the trouble we are having with PIP in the UK at the moment.
It’s been a long time since I have actually liked a dystopian book without it boring me or irritating me greatly. The last dystopian I reviewed I gave 2 stars but said it had a great deal of potential, admittedly, that was when my blog was new and I had not found my own style of book reviews yet. But the rating still stands.
The Program is three stars because many of the techniques used to advance the plot I thought was clever. I mean I saw them coming, but I am a writer myself and that sometimes does make plot devices a bit more predictable but I thought they were clever.
I enjoyed the story despite knowing the book would probably go the same route as other modern dystopian works and split itself into a trilogy. It had that feeling, you know the one. Where you are halfway through the book and the character still hasn’t started the main event of the story.
In fact, I looked and it’s a series of SIX books.
And I think Berg enjoyed it too, but maybe for the wrong reasons. He says he wants to be the first Polar Bear doctor now… is there already a Polar Bear doctor?
Slone, her boyfriend James and their friend, Miller live in a world where suicide is an epidemic that needs to be controlled, starting with minors. Slone’s school and her parents act as a Big Brother of sorts, informing the government if they believe any child is mentally ill and may commit suicide.
The one thing about dystopian is that because a great deal of the books is exposition, you know what is going to happen early one. By watching her friend being dragged away and informing us why that is happening, the reader would know that eventually, she too will be dragged away and sent to The Program to cure her mental illness and as a result, lose her memories. So I would say the plot was a little too predictable. And it was clear she was going to lose her memories but also have that magical protagonist power where not ALL memories are gone. She does not have the Plot Armour @lizzierobinsons was telling me about.
One thing about the topic of mental illness is that the book only talks about one in particular. Depression and one of its effects, suicide. I guess with the book being written in the first person, it will be hard to show other mental illnesses in detail to give them enough credit and represent them correctly but they could at least be hinted at which I feel that they are not.
While the story is easily predictable, I feel the seed and plant devices that Young uses were intelligent decisions. An example is when Sloane realises she has no escape from being sent to the program, she hides a picture of her brother and her boyfriend under a hole in her mattress along with a plastic ring her boyfriend gave her.
It is clear she will find it there but I liked it. I guess because the protagonist is thinking, being clever, fighting the system without a magical being or power saving her problems. She’s not immune to the pill like Tris in Divergent is to the stimulant. The drugs she is fed at the program do have an effect on her, so she is not safe just because she is the protagonist.
The other device is a purple pill given to her by a sneezy and slimeball “Handler” (The people who guard the kids in the program) in exchange for a french kiss. It is a pill that will let her hold onto one memory. She chooses the ring and photo under the mattress.
Again, predictable, but I found it a good device. The character had to sacrifice herself to have a chance at keeping one memory, and while it is not right, I am glad it was only a french kiss and nothing more.
One thing I like about the plot is that the character has to fight for the information herself. It doesn’t come easy to her and this makes her an active character.
So you may have guessed it, but I liked the characterisation of the protagonist, Sloane. I think it may have been the strongest point of the novel and this is because she was active, purposely trying to protect herself and her memories from the system.
At the start of the book, she was really reliant on the support of her boyfriend, James and their best friend, Miller. But after Miller’s death, she realises that James can no longer be the strong one and the roles reverse. She starts to be the strong one, hiding his depression from the program. Unfortunately, his dad and the school notice his change in behaviour and attitude and she loses him to the program.
Still, she tries to remain strong to keep herself out of the program and wait for his return, but it is hard when she realises he cannot remember her, the happy times they spent together. This is what ultimately makes it hard for her to hide her depression from her parents and she is sent to the program.
But she still fights, even then! Doesn’t take it lying down.
Essentially, what I am getting at is that I like active protagonists.
The other characters are not nearly as well developed, but they do have character. James takes every death of his classmates seriously, tattooing them onto his arm (which is removed when he goes through the program)
Miller is a lovesick puppy who is heartbroken when his girlfriend comes back with no recognition of him.
Michael Realm – one of the kids in the program – falls in love with Sloane and is just waiting for the moment she forgets who James is.
Realm is an interesting and strong character too. His tactic is waiting and being patient rather than trying to win Sloane’s love while she is still in love with James. This does not go to plan when Sloane learns he works for The Program and has been helping them to remove her memories.
Dystopians and exposition
One thing I have noticed is that I seem to be able to read dystopian fiction like The Program quite easily compared to other books like Game of Thrones or Goodnight Mister Tom. However, it’s not because I like one more than the other, I think it’s because the style of writing is different.
Books like Game of Thrones are in the third person and rely heavily on descriptive language which shows the pass of the story down. Dystopian’s like Divergent by Veronica Roth, Matched by Ally Condie and The Program by Susan Young tend to have lighter sentence structures. They are fast past, less descriptive and usually written in the first person. I think this is a way for the author to get their exposition across by placing the reader into the head of the protagonist. After all, all three start off in a similar way.
With a key but forced event in which a young adult or teenager aged sixteen has to go through or witness.
Divergent starts off with the protagonist, Tris, getting ready to be sorted into her fragment. Matched begins with Cassia’s life, who she marries, the number of children she will have and where she will live, being dictated by the government. And the protagonist in The Program, Sloane, witnesses one of her ex-friends being carted off to a treatment centre for mental illness.
We are then thrown into an expositional chapter or paragraph of what the society is like.
However, unlike Divergent and Matched, I feel that The Program managed to do this so that it was not too overwhelming.
However, the first half of the book is the protagonist explaining the relationship between herself, James and her brother who committed suicide. Memories that are told to us and not shown. Then when she is in The Program she tells us the exact same memories again.
This part of the exposition I had an issue with. Mostly because it was repeated and was not needed at the start of the book, especially as it was repeated again, later one with much more meaning. By cutting the first mention of these memories, it could have sent Sloane to the Program much earlier in the book than it did.
This then could have added to her resistance to talk. Her resistance to hold on to the memory. I think this exposition is the only part that I REALLY had an issue with, which is a surprise if Divergent, Matched and Delirium are anything to go by in this genre.
It’s not fantastic world building, something that seems to be common in dystopian lit. There is nothing that makes it stand out and makes me think it’s a different world to our own but I understand how the system works and how it works. However, it’s not awful world building.
The impression I received when reading the book was that the government have only been sending these teenagers into the program for the last five-ten years. So I think it may hold up for the timescale hinted at in the book… I mean PIP has been going for that long now and it seems just as intrusive.
What I find interesting, and what makes it different to other dystopian is that while the timescale is so short, there are already people fighting the government for change, rebelling and campaigning. Usually, these types of books have a lengthy paragraph or even a full chapter that explains in exposition that the world they live in has been under dictatorship for over 50 years before the third or whatever generation begins to rebel and fight back. Just like there are people appealing and campaigning about PIP and Universal Credit at the moment.
The book also questions whether the pressures society put on the teenagers to not be ill causes them to be ill in the first place. This links to the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy in psychology, where you label someone as something and so they become that thing.
So I found this quite interesting and different from other modern dystopian’s out there and I feel this too adds to the world-building of the book. However, world building and dictatorship isn’t my speciality, what do you guys think?
I liked this book, I probably won’t read it again but I liked it. Like many trilogies in this genre, I feel it would have been better as a single book, or at a push, two. Cut away all the exposition that is not needed kind of thing. I am not really sure how she got six books out of it and I am not going to read the other books but I think this is the best dystopian I have seen that falls under the same kind of plot and storylines as the above-mentioned books for a while.
I think stealing memories is an interesting issue discussed as well because it questions whether we are the same person if we do not have our memories.
However, if you are looking for a good series of books or a trilogy to read, then The Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness is the best trilogy of books I have ever seen.
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