The Program, Book 1 Book Poster Image

The Program, Book 1



Dystopian romance links teen suicide and memory.

What parents need to know

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

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."

Not applicable
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.

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."

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Suzanne Young
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon Pulse
Publication date:April 30, 2013
Number of pages:416
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 18
Available on:Nook, Hardback, Kindle

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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, and also what love truely means. I love the fact that James and Sloane's love for each other still lasts throughout the struggles and hardships they face, including deaths of loved ones and memories taken by The Program. It teaches not only me, but I'm sure others, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and if it's meant to be, you will find each other once more.
Teen, 15 years old Written bylauren06 August 27, 2013

Great book and great messages.

I read this book a few months back, and loved it. I highly enjoy dystopian or future themed novels, and this one lived up to my standards. I think it is suitable for most to all teenagers. Sexual content is brief and mostly skipped over. It is mentioned but never truly described. Violence is an obvious part of the book, with it's suicidal themes. It's definitely an emotional ride, but if you have some spare cash I recommend checking out this book.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much sex
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 read in 2013 so well written realistic breathtaking you'll be so amazed by the intensity of this book. However if you're 12 and you can't understand the complex diversions that I can this may be a tad over your head. Simply amazing novel so glad I saw it in the bookstore. The language is fine. This book is a must read once you've hit the seventh grade. Some of Sloane's friends commit suicide with something called QuickDeath. This must become a international bestseller. Amazing you HAVE to read it for youself. When it comes to books I'm hard to please I may be young but when it comes to books I can tell you everything that is needed to construct a bestseller I actually won 2 teen writing contests already and Trust me this book is AMAZING. If you need an adult opinionI told my principle to read it and she actually said this was one of the only books that she thinks everyone will love and she has published novels. Amazing.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex