One of my favorite reads from 2013 (and honestly, probably ever) was The Program by Suzanne Young. I was basically over dystopian YA at that point (still am – more on that later) but I picked this up anyway because it played on one of my biggest fears. It’s terrifying to think that you don’t have control over yourself at all. The Program forces teenagers into this rehabilitation program to “save them” from the suicide epidemic that is sweeping humanity. They take out your memories, the ones that have the potential to lead you to depression. Any sign of negative emotion, and you’re flagged and sent to The Program. So, as you can see, instead of helping kids, the very idea of being stolen away and forced into this is causing the very symptoms that they are trying to cure. People would rather die than have their memories – their very selves – taken away. This whole chicken-and-the-egg sort of cycle here had me intrigued, and scared. Anyone who has suffered any type of mental illness can probably relate to the terrifying idea that you are wrong about who you are, you can’t trust those closest to you, you literally cannot remember whole swaths of your life. These are the things that had me interested and ultimately what made me pick this book up in the first place.
What had me turning the pages, however, was the romance. Though this is sort of dystopia-lite, there is a heavy focus on the romantic relationship between Sloane and James. When Sloane is sent to The Program shortly after her boyfriend is taken away, too, the doctors there work to erase the painful memories of Sloane’s relationship with James and also with her brother, Brady. The three were inseparable, so there was no way to remove one without the other. This means that a large portion of the book was devoted to Sloane reliving those memories, taking us on the journey of Sloane and James falling for one another. This is one of the most realistic romantic relationships I think I’ve ever read in YA. There were just so many layers to their feelings for one another. It was the main driving force behind my love for The Program.
The Program ended with definite resolution, but also enough of a teaser to leave you wanting more. And this is where my love for the duology starts to go downhill. Enter The Treatment:
Warning, there will be some spoilers for The Program
The Treatment is a totally different kind of book. James and Sloane are trying to repair what they lost when The Program took their memories away. They’re also on the run, having been taken in by a small group of dissenters. So here we have what was once a loving relationship with a rich history now being turned into what is essentially insta-love. They love each other, but honestly, they don’t know each other anymore. So while we the reader are supposed to buy into this because we know their story, I just couldn’t let it go. They were so devoted to one another after such a short amount of time. Their flirting at the end of The Program when they “met” each other for the first time again – that totally had me going. But their undying love in The Treatment just had me rolling my eyes.
Now, remember how I said I am not a fan of dystopia anymore? Well, The Treatment is where those elements are really coming to the forefront. There is a group of teen/young adult rebels who ultimately want to take down The Program and any government that supports it. But honestly, they’re ragtag at best and I have no idea how they have the money and the means to support themselves. And I just have a very hard time believing these kids have any shot of taking down The Program. I mean, you have to believe that there were adults who protested The Program during its inception, and if they couldn’t do anything, then how are two dozen teenagers supposed to fix things? They can’t.
So I decided to abandon The Treatment. I just don’t want my perception of The Program to be colored by this mess of a sequel. I recently reread the first book, and I still absolutely adore it. So to me, this sequel is just an insult.
Have you read this duology? What did you think? Are there books out there that you loved, but their sequels were just terrible? I think I’m just going to pretend this sequel never happened, and in my mind, I’ll just let The Program stand on its own.