A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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The strongest words are constructions of "s--t."
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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.
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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."
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.