The Program (Program Series #1)

The Program (Program Series #1)

4.4 104
by Suzanne Young
     
 

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In this “gripping tale for lovers of dystopian romance” (Kirkus Reviews), true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course ofSee more details below

Overview

In this “gripping tale for lovers of dystopian romance” (Kirkus Reviews), true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in.

And The Program is coming for them.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Four years ago, teen suicide became an epidemic, affecting one in every three teens. To combat it, a school district in Oregon developed "The Program," where teens are treated for their depression by erasing their memories and secluding them from their peers. As an increasing number of her classmates are taken away for treatment, 17-year-old Sloane Barstow knows better than to show emotion to anyone other than her boyfriend, James, especially since her brother drowned himself two years earlier, leaving her parents constantly on edge. But when her friend commits suicide and James is taken away, Sloane begins to slip into a depression that forces her into The Program, where she is gradually stripped of all memories of James and her past. As she struggles to start over, she finds herself questioning the integrity of The Program and why she is inexplicably drawn to a troublemaker named James. The story is intriguing, and while a little slow at times, teens will find themselves racing to the finish to see what happens to Sloane and James. Young has created strong characters that readers will fall in love with and has developed a captivating world that will not soon be forgotten. Recommend this one to fans of Lauren Oliver's Delirium and Veronica Roth's Divergent (both HarperCollins, 2011).—Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Hartford Public Library, CT
Publishers Weekly
In Young's chilling and suspenseful story, teen suicide has spiked dramatically and been deemed a "behavioral contagion." Now students are watched closely and not allowed to mourn; if they exhibit the slightest signs of depression they are "flagged" and dragged (often literally) by "handlers" to the Program: six weeks of memory erasure followed by placement in a new school. Seventeen-year-old Sloane can't trust anyone with her true feelings except her boyfriend, James, who was with her when her older brother killed himself. When their best friend takes his own life, too, James is committed, followed by Sloane. Part two details Sloane's time in the Program, in which she's stripped of all control and her dignity, and the third section of the book follows her return to society. While Young's (A Want So Wicked) book is unrelentingly emotional and dark—qualities that sometimes threaten to overwhelm the story line—it confronts readers with questions about whether the past or the present defines a person, while makes a strong case for the value of all memories, good and bad. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Readers will devour this fast-paced story that combines an intriguing premise, a sexy romance, and a shifting landscape of truth. With big questions still unanswered and promising twists, this first volume in a new series will leave readers primed for more.
Booklist
*STARRED REVIEW* "Readers will devour this fast-paced story that combines an intriguing premise, a sexy romance, and a shifting landscape of truth. With big questions still unanswered and promising twists, this first volume in a new series will leave readers primed for more."
BCCB
*STARRED REVIEW* "With this powerful psychological drama, Young contributes a unique, attention-worthy standout from the crowd of young adult dystopias."
The Horn Books
"The uncomfortable mix of the good intentions and horrific outcomes of The Program is chilling, and will likely haunt readers as a slightly-too-plausible path adults would choose to “save” their teens."
VOYA - Mary Ann Harlan
The Program is not what it first seems, although the Program is exactly what is appears to be. The novel, set in a dystopian future in which teen suicide has become an epidemic, is a love story. The Program is a therapy that erases unpleasant memories from "sick" teens, sending them home "empty," with no memories and unlikely to commit suicide. In the first part of the novel, Sloane and her boyfriend, James, fight their fears over the Program, desperately trying to maintain an illusion of happiness. When their friend Lacey returns with no memory and her boyfriend, Miller, commits suicide, they can no longer hold on. In the second part of the novel, Sloane fights to save her memories of James, with some unusual help from a fellow Program member, Realm. Realm, however, is not what he appears to be, and holding on is harder than Sloane imagined. The questions The Program asks and answers are: How strong are the ties that bind us? Can love conquer all? In the final section, the novel finally reveals itself as primarily a love story. The dystopian setting, the epidemic of suicide, and the adults willing to stand by—or actively hurt—teens under the guise of helping hide the strength of the love story until the end. While it is clear throughout the story that Sloane and James have a romantic bond, the darkness of the setting tempers the romance. This is an entertaining, and compelling read. Reviewer: Mary Ann Harlan
Kirkus Reviews
As a teen-suicide epidemic sweeps the nation, Sloane and her friends struggle with depression from which the only release is death or The Program. Every day the teens pretend that they're not "infected" in order to avoid being seized by The Program. This government-sanctioned treatment returns high schoolers to the community after stripping them of their memories and making them vacant versions of their former selves. With raw emotion, 17-year-old Sloane relates the story in three parts. In the first, Sloane and her boyfriend, James, cling to their intense love while their friends commit suicide or are taken away. There's nowhere to hide as Sloane and James try and fail to keep themselves from The Program. The stomach-churning second part follows Sloane in treatment, where her memories are plucked and her body violated, and her only friend is playing both sides. Finally, Sloane is re-introduced to her school and family. She retains one key memory, which leads her back to fear, pain and love. How this epidemic began and whether The Program is a sinister conspiracy is left unanswered, but despite weak worldbuilding and a bleak plot, Sloane's quest for survival and individuality is a tribute to the tenacity of the essential self. For lovers of dystopian romance, this gripping tale is a tormented look at identity and a dark trip down Lost-Memory Lane. (Dystopian romance. 14 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442445826
Publisher:
Simon Pulse
Publication date:
04/30/2013
Series:
Program Series , #1
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
9,105
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Program


  • THE AIR IN THE ROOM TASTES STERILE. THE LINGERING scent of bleach is mixing with the fresh white paint on the walls, and I wish my teacher would open the window to let in a breeze. But we’re on the third floor so the pane is sealed shut—just in case anyone gets the urge to jump.

    I’m still staring at the paper on my desk when Kendra Phillips turns around in her seat, looking me over with her purple contacts. “You’re not done yet?”

    I glance past her to make sure Mrs. Portman is distracted at the front of the room, and then I smile. “It’s far too early in the morning to properly psychoanalyze myself,” I whisper. “I’d almost rather learn about science.”

    “Maybe a coffee spiked with QuikDeath would help you focus on the pain.”

    My expression falters; just the mention of the poison enough to send my heart racing. I hold Kendra’s empty stare—a deadness behind it that even purple contacts can’t disguise. Her eyes are ringed with heavy circles from lack of sleep, and her face has thinned sharply. She’s exactly the kind of person who can get me in trouble, and yet I can’t look away.

    I’ve known Kendra for years, but we’re not really friends, especially now. Not when she’s been acting depressed for close to a month. I try to avoid her, but today there’s something desperate about her that I can’t ignore. Something about the way her body seems to tremble even though she’s sitting still.

    “God, don’t look so serious,” she says, lifting one bony shoulder. “I’m just kidding, Sloane. Oh, and hey,” she adds as if just remembering the real reason she turned to me in the first place. “Guess who I saw last night at the Wellness Center? Lacey Klamath.”

    She leans forward as she tells me, but I’m struck silent. I had no idea that Lacey was back.

    Just then the door opens with a loud click. I glance toward the front of the classroom and freeze, my breath catching in my throat. The day has just become significantly worse.

    Two handlers with crisp white jackets and comb-smoothed hair stand in the doorway, their expressionless faces traveling over us as they seek someone out. When they start forward, I begin to wilt.

    Kendra spins around in her seat, her back rigid and straight. “Not me,” she murmurs, her hands clasped tightly in front of her like she’s praying. “Please, not me.”

    From her podium, Mrs. Portman begins her lesson as if there’s no interruption. As if people in white coats should be waltzing in during her speech on the kinetic theory of matter. It’s the second time the handlers have interrupted class this week.

    The men separate to opposite sides of the classroom, their shoes tapping on the linoleum floor as they come closer. I look away, opting to watch the leaves fall from the trees outside the window instead. It’s October, but the summer has bled into fall, bathing us all in unexpected Oregon sunshine. I wish I could be anywhere else right now.

    The footsteps stop, but I don’t acknowledge them. I can smell the handlers near me—antiseptic, like rubbing alcohol and Band-Aids. I don’t dare move.

    “Kendra Phillips,” a voice says gently. “Can you please come with us?”

    I hold back the sound that’s trying to escape from behind my lips, a combination of relief and sympathy. I refuse to look at Kendra, terrified that the handlers will notice me. Please don’t notice me.

    “No,” Kendra says to them, her voice choked off. “I’m not sick.”

    “Ms. Phillips,” the voice says again, and this time I have to look. The dark-haired handler leans to take Kendra by the elbow, guiding her from the chair. Kendra immediately lashes out, yanking her arm from his grasp as she tries to clamor over her desk.

    Both men descend on her as Kendra thrashes and screams. She’s barely five feet, but she’s fighting hard—harder than the others. I feel the tension rolling off the rest of the class, all of us hoping for a quick resolution. Hoping that we’ll make it another day without getting flagged.

    “I’m not sick!” Kendra yells, breaking from their hold once again.

    Mrs. Portman finally stops her lesson as she looks on with a pained expression. The calm she tries to exude is fraying at the edges. Next to me a girl starts crying and I want to tell her to shut up, but I don’t want to attract attention. She’ll have to fend for herself.

    The dark-haired handler wraps his arms around Kendra’s waist, lifting her off the floor as she kicks her legs out. A string of obscenities tears from her mouth as saliva leaks from the corners. Her face is red and wild, and all at once I think she’s sicker than we ever imagined. That the real Kendra is no longer in there, and maybe hasn’t been since her sister died.

    My eyes well up at the thought, but I push it down. Down deep where I can keep all my feelings until later when there’s no one watching me.

    The handler puts his palm over Kendra’s mouth, muffling her sounds as he whispers soothing things into her ear, continuing to work her bucking body toward the door. The other handler dashes ahead to hold it open.

    Just then the man holding Kendra screams out and drops her, shaking his hand as if she bit him. 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. The teacher gasps as Kendra flops in front of her, but Mrs. Portman only backs away.

    Kendra’s top lip is split wide open and leaking blood all over her gray sweater and the white floor. She barely has time to process what happened when the handler grabs her by the ankle and begins to drag her—caveman style—toward the exit. Kendra screams and begs. She tries to hold on to anything within her reach, but instead she’s leaving a trail of blood along the floor.

    When they finally get to the doorway, she raises her purple eyes in my direction, reaching out a reddened hand to me. “Sloane!” she screams. And I stop breathing.

    The handler pauses, glancing over his shoulder at me. I’ve never seen him here before today, but something about the way he’s watching me now makes my skin crawl, and I look down.

    I don’t lift my head again until I hear the door shut. Kendra’s shouts are promptly cut off in the hallway, and I wonder momentarily if she was Tasered or injected with a sedative. Either way, I’m glad it’s over.

    Around the room, there are several sniffles, but it’s mostly silent. Blood still covers the front of the room in streaks of crimson.

    “Sloane?” the teacher asks, startling me. “I haven’t gotten your daily assessment yet.” Mrs. Portman starts toward the closet where she keeps the bucket and mop, and other than the high lilt of her voice, she has no noticeable reaction to Kendra being dragged from our class.

    I swallow hard and apologize, moving to take my pencil from my backpack. As my teacher sloshes the bleach on the floor, choking us with the smell once again, I begin to shade in the appropriate ovals.

    In the past day have you felt lonely or overwhelmed?

    I stare down at the bright white paper, the same one that waits at our desk every morning. I want to crumple it into a ball and throw it across the room, scream for people to acknowledge what just happened to Kendra. Instead I take a deep breath and answer.

    NO.

    This isn’t true—we all feel lonely and overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m not sure there’s another way to feel. But I know the routine. I know what a wrong answer can do. Next question.

    I fill in the rest of the ovals, pausing when I get to the last one, just like I do every time. Has anyone close to you ever committed suicide?

    YES.

    Marking that answer day after day nearly destroys me. But it’s the one question where I have to tell the truth. Because they already know the answer.

    After signing my name at the bottom, I grab my paper with a shaky hand and walk up to Mrs. Portman’s desk, standing in the wet area where Kendra’s blood used to be. I try not to look down as I wait for my teacher to put away the cleaning products.

    “Sorry,” I tell her again when she comes to take the sheet from me. I notice a small smudge of blood on her pale pink shirtsleeve, but don’t mention it.

    She looks over my answers, and then nods, filing the paper in the attendance folder. I hurry back to my seat, listening to the tense silence. I wait for the sound of the door, the approaching footsteps. But after a long minute, my teacher clears her throat and goes back to her lesson on friction. Relieved, I close my eyes.

    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. Strangely enough, the rate of incidence among adults stayed about the same, adding to the mystery.

    When the deaths first started increasing, there were all sorts of rumors. From defective childhood vaccines to pesticides in our food—people grasped for any excuse. The leading view says that the oversupply of antidepressants changed the chemical makeup of our generation, making us more susceptible to depression.

    I don’t know what I believe anymore, and really, I try not to think about it. But the psychologists say that suicide is a behavioral contagion. It’s the old adage “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” Apparently the answer is yes.

    To fight the outbreak, our school district implemented the pilot run of The Program—a new philosophy in prevention. Among the five schools, students are monitored for changes in mood or behavior, flagged if a threat is determined. Anyone exhibiting suicidal tendencies is no longer referred to a psychologist. Instead, the handlers are called.

    And then they come and take you.

    Kendra Phillips will be gone for at least six weeks—six weeks spent in a facility where The Program will mess with her mind, take her memories. She’ll be force-fed pills and therapy until she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. After that they’ll ship her off to a small private school until graduation. A school designated for other returners, other empty souls.

    Like Lacey.

    My phone vibrates in my pocket and I let out a held breath. I don’t have to check to know what it means—James wants to meet. It’s the push I need to get through the rest of the period, the fact that he’s waiting for me. The fact that he’s always waiting for me.

    •  •  •

    As we file out of the classroom forty minutes later, I notice the dark-haired handler in the hallway, watching us. He seems to take extra time on me, but I try hard not to notice. Instead I keep my head down and walk quickly toward the gymnasium to find James.

    I check over my shoulder to make sure no one is following me before turning down the stark white corridor with the metal double doors. It’s nearly impossible to trust anyone not to report you for suspicious behavior. Not even our parents—especially not our parents.

    It was Lacey’s father who called The Program to tell them that she was unwell. So now James, Miller, and I do everything we can to keep up the front at home. Smiles and small talk equal well-balanced and healthy. I wouldn’t dare show my parents anything else. Not now.

    But once I turn eighteen, The Program loses its hold on me. I won’t be a minor so they can no longer force me into treatment. Although my risk doesn’t technically lower, The Program is bound to the laws of the land. I’ll be an adult, and as an adult it’s my God-given right to off myself if I so please.

    Unless the epidemic gets worse. Then who knows what they’ll do.

    When I get to the gymnasium doors, I push on the cold metal bar and slip inside. It’s been years since this part of the building was used. The Program cut athletics immediately after taking over, claiming it added too much competitive stress to our fragile student population. Now this space is used for storage—unused desks piled in the corner, stacks of unneeded textbooks.

    “Anyone see you?”

    I jump and look at James as he stands in the cramped space underneath the folded bleachers. Our space. The emotionless armor I’ve been wearing weakens.

    “No,” I whisper. James holds out his hand to me and I meet him in the shadows, pressing myself close to him. “It’s not a good day,” I murmur against his mouth.

    “It rarely is.”

    James and I have been together for over two years—since I was fifteen. But I’ve known him my entire life. He’d been best friends with my brother, Brady, before he killed himself.

    I choke on the memory, like I’m drowning in it. I pull from James and bang the back of my head on the corner of the wooden bleacher above us. Wincing, I touch my scalp, but don’t cry. I wouldn’t dare cry at school.

    “Let me see,” James says, reaching to rub his fingers over the spot. “You were probably protected by all this hair.” He grins and lets his hand glide into my dark curls, resting it protectively on the back of my neck. When I don’t return his smile, he pulls me closer. “Come here,” he whispers, sounding exhausted as he puts his arms around me.

    I hug him, letting the images of Brady fade from my head, along with the picture of Lacey being dragged from her house by handlers. I slide my hand under the sleeve of James’s T-shirt and onto his bicep where his tattoos are.

    The Program makes us anonymous, strips us of our right to mourn—because if we do, we can get flagged for appearing depressed. So James has found another way. On his right arm he’s keeping a list in permanent ink of those we’ve lost. Starting with Brady.

    “I’m having bad thoughts,” I tell him.

    “Then stop thinking,” he says simply.

    “They took Kendra last period. It was horrible. And Lacey—”

    “Stop thinking,” James says again, a little more forcefully.

    I look up at him, the heaviness still in my chest as I meet his eyes. It’s hard to tell in the shadows, but James’s eyes are light blue, the sort of crystal blue that can make anyone stop with just a glance. He’s stunning that way.

    “Kiss me instead,” he murmurs. I lean forward to press my lips to his, letting him have me in a way that only he can. A moment filled with sadness and hope. A bond of secrets and promises of forever.

    It’s been two years since my brother died. Practically overnight, our lives were changed. We don’t know why Brady killed himself, why he abandoned us. But then again, no one knows what’s causing the epidemic—not even The Program.

    Above us the bell for class rings, but neither James nor I react. Instead James’s tongue touches mine and he pulls me closer, deepening our kiss. Although dating is allowed, we try to keep our relationship low-key at school, at least when we can. The Program claims that forming healthy bonds keeps us emotionally strong, but then again, if it all goes horribly wrong, they can just make us forget. The Program can erase anything.

    “I swiped my dad’s car keys,” James whispers between my lips. “What do you say we go skinny-dipping in the river after school?”

    “How about you get naked and I’ll just watch?”

    “Works for me.”

    I laugh, and James gives me one more squeeze before taking his arms from around me. He pretends to fix my hair, really just messing it up more. “Better get to class,” he says finally. “And tell Miller he’s invited to watch me swim naked too.”

    I back away, first kissing my fingers and then holding them up in a wave. James smiles.

    He always knows what to say to me. How to make me feel normal. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived Brady’s death without him. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have.

    After all, suicide is contagious.

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