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The Program provocative but mostly mundane
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“The Program”
By: Suzanne Young
Price: $16.99
Rating: (two out of five bookmarks)

What: Alison Reeger Cook’s book launch for “The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx”
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, May 18
Where: Books-a-Million at Discover Mills Mall, 5900 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville
Cost: $15.99 or $13.53 paperback on Amazon.com

In Suzanne Young’s latest novel, “The Program,” an inexplicable epidemic is causing teenagers around the world to commit suicide at a frightening rate. No one can seem to pinpoint what is causing this fatal behavior, but the government has implemented the Program to combat it.

Every child who has returned after the Program’s six-week treatment has a 100 percent survival rate — because their minds are wiped of any memories triggering depression. Therefore, most teenagers return as blank slates.

Sloane, a young girl whose brother killed himself years ago, does her best to hide her feelings in fear of being flagged by the Program. The only person she can be her true self with is her boyfriend James. But even his optimistic persistence and love for her cannot protect her as more tragedy begins to fall on them. Soon, Sloane and James are targeted by the Program. Now, they must fight not only to save their memories, but save their precious bond that could be stripped away forever.

In the same way “The Hunger Games” depicted a dark future in which teenagers are forced to kill each other for survival, “The Program” also makes its characters face the ever-present threat of death. But in “The Program,” the characters cannot physically fight back. It is an internal battle, as Sloane fights herself as well as the authority of the Program to endure.

It presents a challenging dilemma many face at some point in our lives: is it better to live with the pains of our past, or forget them even if it means forgetting where we come from? Is ignorance truly bliss, or should we always remember our tragedies even if at times it is unbearable? More important, is the will to live a decision that should be forced upon us, or is it something we must hope we will find by ourselves even if the answer isn’t clear?

This is a delicate subject Young handles effectively through the characters’ interactions throughout the story. She manages to shine some hope on what could have easily been an overly melodramatic, very depressing novel.

However, the characters fall into niches typical for this kind of teen fiction: Sloane is the independent rebel who refuses to be taken down but never seems to be in control; James is the gorgeous, always understanding, always protective boyfriend who is at the center of Sloane’s world; and most of the other teen characters are pretty forgettable. Perhaps that is intentional — once a teen returns from the Program, they have lost all of his or her uniqueness.

I still feel, though, even a character who has had his or her mind wiped clean should still be interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention.

Almost all the adults in the story — whether they are figures of the Program, teachers or parents — are selfish, unsympathetic and untrustworthy, who only want to suppress the teenage protagonists. I know most teenagers view authority figures as “obstacles” or “antagonistic,” but this depiction of “adults, bad — teens, good” bothers me to an extent. After all, children and teenagers are going to grow up to be adults. Shouldn’t we be showing them adults, especially their parents and teachers, are on their side?

For teen fiction fans who like the dystopian future theme, “The Program” is an adequate entry to the genre. It can stir up some thought-provoking discussion about free will versus enforced welfare, but lackluster characters and a predictable plot will make readers forget this story as quickly as being subjected to the Program.

Two out of five bookmarks.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life

 

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