I don’t actually remember why I bought this book. The idea is far too close to a contemporary (I don’t read contemporaries. Ever.), and the world isn’t nearly dystopian enough for me to forgive that. I think I bought it because it was two dollars at a used book store, and, for some reason, I was curious.
It’s possible that since I read and love things like Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, this kind of dystopian just doesn’t do it for me anymore? But even if that’s the case, this still didn’t seem that dystopian. In the book, pretty much everything was the same as it is now, the only thing that was different is that suicide was an epidemic. Which, by itself, isn’t dystopian. Yes, there are people from “The Program” who can take people’s children and wipe their memories, and the parents don’t seem to see this as a bad thing, but, again, that alone does not make it dystopian. So many things I’ve read about this book say that it’s a really good dystopian novel but I’m really just not seeing it. There isn’t even an oppressive government, or mentions of some horrific war. If I hadn’t repeatedly heard people say that it was dystopian, I wouldn’t have thought that it was. It didn’t even have the dark, ominous, haunted feeling of a dystopian novel. It reads like a depressing contemporary.
Even though I’m going to complain about this book a lot, it did have an interesting idea. If it was written right (and written with way more sci-fi in it), it could have been really good. But it wasn’t written that way, and I didn’t like it.
The idea of “The Program” itself is kind of disturbing. Teenagers are sent away to literally get their memories erased because they were sad. Then they’re fed a bunch of lies about what their life had been like before “The Program”, and they’re released into the world to live their hollow lives. (Saying “released” made me think of The Giver, which is a much better, and much creepier, dystopian. If you’re thinking of reading The Program, you should read The Giver instead. It sticks with you in that creeping way of a good dystopian.) This could have been done so well. It had so much potential. If this had been written differently, this could have been so good. I’m going to talk more about how it could have been written to be better at the end of the review.
That’s pretty much the only thing I could say that I liked about the book.
I’ve seen other reviews of this book praising it because it very openly talks about sex. I don’t know how I feel about this. The other reviewers were saying things about how it’s important to talk about these things very openly because these are things that teenagers go through, and they need to be talked about. I know that some teenagers do go through this kind of thing. But some don’t. I haven’t even had a boyfriend yet. I’d honestly rather have another electric guitar than have a boyfriend, so obviously relationships are not a big deal for me. I know a lot of other teenagers who haven’t had a relationship yet, so obviously relationships, and the physical side of relationships, isn’t something that every teenager experiences. But you never see a book written for the teenager who doesn’t want a relationship yet. You only see the ones written for the teenagers who are in relationships or who desperately want them. Honestly, I can only think of four of my friends who have actually dated anyone, and two of them dated each other, so… No, I don’t have a huge group of friends, but still. Who would want a boyfriend when you can have cats and books and Radiohead CDs? And, really, some of us are just busy trying to figure ourselves out, let alone trying to hold one half of a relationship together.
I’m getting away from my point. If the physical side of Sloane’s and James’ relationship had added something to the plot, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it right now. But it didn’t add anything to the plot. Maybe some of the praise coming from reviewers is because the author didn’t try to hide what happened behind a bunch of weird metaphors? In this book they just say what happens and don’t try to hide it. They don’t go into voyeuristic, graphic, explicit detail, they just don’t hide it. Which I guess could be good? I’ve read books where I think two of the characters might have done something… or there could have just been a lot of kissing. And it’s not like I was just not paying enough attention. I would reread those parts repeatedly to see if I could actually figure out what happened, and every time it was just as vague and confusing. It’s irritating when you can’t tell what exactly is happening in a book, and I’m glad that they didn’t hide it behind weird metaphors, but I still don’t see a reason for this to have been in the book. It adds nothing to the plot. Actually, it may take away from the plot. But, as one of my friends who has also read the book says, you can’t take away from the plot when the book doesn’t have one.
As a side note, imagine a world where many teens did not remember who they had even had sex with because their memories were wiped. Where does this lead? If they go back to their lives believing they are virgins, what of the people who knew them before? Would they end up depressed again because everyone knew things about them that they didn’t remember? Would they forget that they had a horrible relationship with someone before “The Program” and then get back into the same bad relationship right after “The Program”?
This book is very similar to the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and that movie actually covers this. The two main characters fall in love, break up, get their memories wiped, and then fall in love again. There’s another character who falls in love with someone, gets her memories wiped, and then falls in love with him again. Clearly this is an issue, and part of the plot of the whole movie. You will make the same mistakes again, in love or life, if you can’t remember them from the first time around and grow from them.
I think the biggest similarity between the two is the way the memories were wiped. In The Program, a person would take a pill, and talk about their memories, and the pill would attach itself to the memories or something, and then the second pill would erase them. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the person would talk about the memories, and I think there was some kind of brain scan thing to locate the memories, and then they would erase them later. That’s just so similar. Also, The Program came out nine (I think) years after the movie did. I’m not saying plagiarism, I’m just saying. Anyway, this movie is much better than The Program. Which is weird for me to say, because the movie was a rom-com, and I don’t like rom-coms. But this was one was really good, and if you want romance and memory erasing, try this instead.
The relationship between Sloane and James made me realize that it’s kind of boring to read about a relationship that’s already been established. It’s fun to read about people falling in love. It’s less fun to read about people who have already fallen in love. And even though there was plenty of backstory about how they fell in love, it wasn’t the same. When you’re reading something where the people haven’t admitted their feelings yet, or they haven’t fallen in love, anything could happen. Maybe they won’t even end up together. Who knows what could happen! But in this, you knew what was going to happen, and it just wasn’t fun.
It was kind of hard to read a personal narrative from someone who was as sad as Sloane was. I have no problem with a sad narrator or a sad main character, my personality trends toward the sadder, depressive end of the pool. I actually like sad or sulky narrators better than really happy ones, especially when they’re really sarcastic and self-deprecating. I find them really relatable. Those are probably my favorite narrators. Anyway, it was hard to read this because almost every chapter ended with Sloane saying that she wanted to die or talking about how much she hates her life. I get that the point of this book is that she was so sad that she was sent away to “The Program”, but all of her thoughts were about how sad she was and how she couldn’t function. I know that some sad people are like that, but I’m not that type of sad person so she was hard to relate to. Even in the end, when she was happy, I didn’t want to read about her. Partly because, at this point, she was only a shell of a person, and maybe partly because she was so irritating during the first half of the book that I couldn’t form any connection with her. I don’t know.
I like sad narrators when they’re like the one from “Love Will Tear Us Apart” from Zombies VS. Unicorns. For some reason I’m blanking on his name. Whatever. That short story is funny in some parts, but in other parts he completely drops all of the humor, and you can see that he’s deeply sad. That short story, even though it’s mostly sarcastic and snarky, has some of the saddest, most poetic lines I’ve ever read. Maybe The Program also had some sad, poetic lines that I just missed? But the entire book was meant to be sad, so particularly sad lines wouldn’t stand out like they did in “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Also, it wasn’t poetic in any way, so I seriously doubt that there was some beautiful, profound line that I just entirely missed. I don’t know. I’ve gotten entirely off topic. If I don’t stop now I’m going to keep talking about the short story, and, instead of having a review of The Program, I’ll have twenty pages of fangirling about a short story that has nothing to do with this book.
Basically, to sum up the last two paragraphs, I like sad narrators with a really good sense of humor, and Sloane was just horribly sad with no sense of humor.
Another reason that I didn’t like the super sad narrator is that I mirror the emotions of the characters I read about. Even if I don’t connect with a character or like a character, I will mirror their emotions, and I won’t even realize that the emotions I’m feeling aren’t mine. Because of this, reading this book made me a sad mess. I’m normally sadder than the average person, but since I’m always like that, I’m used to it. It’s my normal. What I was feeling during and after reading this book was not my normal level of sad. Not everyone mirrors book characters, so this may not be a problem for you. But it was a problem for me, and I’m sure it’s a problem for some other people, so I’m mentioning it.
This story was really predictable. Obviously she gets sent to “The Program”. Obviously there’s a love triangle. Somehow there’s a rebellion against “The Program” (you would think they would just wipe their memories and nip that in the bud) that she can join at the end, and, even though that was weird, it does follow the path of pretty much every young adult “dystopian”, so it’s not too surprising. If all of your knowledge of the world came from young adult books, you would think that all teenagers do is rebel against oppressive governments or authority figures. To be fair, I honestly didn’t see the whole rebellion thing coming, but that’s not a good thing because it’s even less believable than the rest of the book, and the rest of the book isn’t that believable.
On a different note, I’ve noticed recently that there seem to be a lot of suicide books. Thirteen Reasons Why came out ten years ago, and suddenly it’s a series on Netflix. The Program series centers around suicide, and there are three books and several novellas in the series out already. Also, it’s not like a bunch of adults are writing these, but teens aren’t into them. These books are selling. These books are popular. Many teenagers are buying and reading suicide books. And there’s no way that I’m the only teenager who mirrors book characters, so I’m sure that there are many other teenagers who read books like this and then feel deeply sad. Some of those teenagers probably started off more sad than I did, so how are they coping with this? This seems concerning! People should be concerned! Why are suicide books so popular? Are teens okay? Are suicide books becoming the next big thing? Clearly, if they become the new big thing, this blog will be a fangirl heaven for Vonnegut, Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke.
If I had written this book, it wouldn’t be a series with three or more novels. It would be a Bradbury-ish short story. In my version, “The Program” wouldn’t hide the fact that they’re erasing people’s memories, yet the parents would be okay with that. Parents would willingly send their kids away to get their memories erased. Isn’t that scarier?
From there, there are two directions it could go. The first one is that the book would focus on Realm. Instead of all of the nonsense about him falling in love with Sloane and then finding her after she was done with The Program, I would have him fall in love with her and then never tell her. He would do this because he would take his job very seriously, he would want her to recover, and he wouldn’t want to risk her not recovering just because of him. Maybe he would even know that he would never find someone else like her, that she would be the only girl he would ever fall in love with, but he loves her enough to let her go. This experience would make him grow as a person, but he would also get very sad because he just watched the only girl he would ever love walk away (maybe she would even forget him). Because of his sadness, they would wipe his memories too, erasing all that he gained as a person from the experience.
The other way I could go with it would still focus on Sloane, but it would start on the day that she was taken away to “The Program”. In my version, no one around her would have tried to kill themselves, and she wouldn’t even be that sad. She would be sad, obviously, but not to the extent that she was in the book. Her parents probably would have sent her away because they didn’t want to be the people with the sulky child. At first, most of the story would be about how she didn’t want to forget her life, and how it was all a misunderstanding, and she shouldn’t be there. But as the story progressed, she would slowly stop complaining as she forgot everything and became a hollow shell of a person, albeit a socially acceptable hollow shell, that her parents were proud to have. Have a little soma, my dear, you’ll feel much better. (And if you don’t know what that refers to, you need to read more of the old dystopians.)
In my opinion, both of those would be much sadder than the original and also much better.
I’m sure that at the end of this series there will be some kind of happy ending. But that’s not realistic. In the real world, there aren’t always happy endings, and even though I don’t want every book to be something that could totally happen in the real world, there need to be some books that don’t have happy endings. I know I’m guessing at the end of a series I will likely never read, but there is a time and a place for endings that make you sad. This should be one of them.
One and a half out of five stars. Because this could have been wonderfully sad, and maybe it could have really meant something, but instead it followed every young adult book cliche. And it was so maudlinly sad as to be hard to read.