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The Program, Book 1

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
The Program, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Dystopian romance links teen suicide and memory.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 14 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story gives almost no attention to the specifics of "behavioral contagion," the phenomenon of mass suicide, nor to any plausible remedy. Pills of various colors, administered by The Program, do all the work of preserving, deleting, or restoring painful memories. Still, we are led to empathize with Sloane, whose grief for her little brother, lost to suicide, tempts her to follow him into death. The story shines light on one of the darkest corners of life. 

Positive Messages

Deleting memory is no real cure for grief. It's important to stand up to totalitarianism and lies. Knowing who you are gives your life greater meaning. As Sloane's friend Michael says, some things are better left in the past, and true things tend to repeat themselves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sloane and her closest friends resist totalitarianism and total brainwashing. She acts fiercely to preserve her self-worth and her love for her boyfriend, James. Even after they've been brainwashed, Sloane and James struggle to learn the truth about themselves, about who they were, which imbues their lives with greater value than mere survival. Sloane's parents, though caring, never come to terms with the suicide of their son, the dad taking to the bottle and the mom becoming frantically protective of Sloane.


Sloane defeats two sexual advances during her weeks in The Program. The incidents are not unduly violent or graphic, though one of them arises in the context of an orderly who is known to prey on female patients. In the only suicide described, a boy lets himself fall backward and descend 20 feet into a river, where he eventually drowns.


Sloane's hunky boyfriend, James, frequently takes off his shirt, usually to swim. They have sex twice, both times with protection, and with her sly remark that he must have been expecting it. The sex is barely described. Their relationship is swathed in sentiment and romance.


The strongest words are constructions of "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The only prevalent drugs are the ones in The Program, a highly fictional extension of the use of mood-altering drugs in routine psychiatry.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Program is a dark dystopian romance that presents a disturbing picture of teen suicide gone rampant, with parents unable to reverse a national "behavioral contagion" that claims 1 in 3 young lives. The main character, Sloane, is a 17-year-old girl whose parents have not recovered from the suicide of their son, so they submit her to The Program, a government-sponsored "cure" for the epidemic designed to chemically erase painful memories. Though the love in Sloane's past provides a counterpoint to her grief, the story remains charged with menace and raises the question of how to deal with anguish and loss. Sloane has protected sex with her boyfriend in a relationship swathed in sentiment and romance. The strongest words are various constructions of "s--t."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycelysen December 27, 2013

Not what you'd expect

I enjoyed this book. I was disappointed that there were two instances of the F-word but other than that I liked it. I'm not sure how I feel about erasing p... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySea of Tranquility August 2, 2013

Very Realistic

As suicide really is a problem here in the 21st century, this book does at least make sense. I really like it because it teaches you the harsh reality of life,... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 19, 2013

MUST READ,Breathtaking. Best dystopian of 2013 so far.

I love it. Read it at 12 (13 in June) and although they have there sexual times this book is amazing I LOVE IT. On my top 10 list FOR SURE. Best book you will r... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sloane's little brother has succumbed to the suicide epidemic that is gripping the nation. She and her high school boyfriend, James, vow to save each other from The Program, the government's absolutely effective cure, which results in a loss of memory. After both of them get caught in The Program's web, Sloane is challenged to find the love in her life, which exists only in the past.

Is it any good?

THE PROGRAM delivers on a haunting premise: Parents might be driven to betray their own children to a program of brainwashing to save them from an epidemic of suicide. Kids who return from The Program, their painful memories chemically deleted, behave like happy zombies. Here the story doesn't quite hold together -- you'd think their friends who hadn't been brainwashed would quickly fill them in on the past -- but its power derives from the fact that love and sadness can be terribly intertwined. Sloane, whose little brother commits suicide, misses him so much that following him in death seems less painful than going on, despite her love for her boyfriend, James. Sloane realizes that even if her parents did send her to The Program, living with pain is ultimately her responsibility.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why dystopian novels are so popular. What's compelling about stories featuring controlling governments?

  • In a world where 1 in 3 teens is at high risk of suicide, would authorities be justified in treating young people against their will?

  • The book describes "behavioral contagion." Is that just a stronger term for peer pressure? Can peer pressure be a good thing?

Book details

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