In this “gripping tale for lovers of dystopian romance” (Kirkus Reviews), true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.
Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.
Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in.
1. What can you do to get help if you, or someone close to you, exhibits signs of depression? Who are safe, reliable people in your life whom you can turn to?
2. Sloane remarks, “I can’t believe they don’t understand. I wonder if it’s because adults would rather forget about their problems, the thought that ignorance is bliss.” Why do you think Sloane’s peers and their parents have very different attitudes toward the Program? How does each group, respectively, view the demand for, and methodology of, the Program? Why is there such a disconnect between the teenagers and their parents’ generation?
3. As Sloane and James reconnect, Sloane describes “emotions that are there, but without cause. Feelings that aren’t attached to memories and therefore meaningless.” To what extent are emotions tied to memory? How is memory anchored by emotions?
4. James and Sloane’s romantic relationship was founded on a strong friendship, of which Brady was once a part. At what point do you think their feelings transcended “just friends,” and became more than that? How do you account for this change in their feelings for each other?
5. Explain the logic behind the Program. Why did it come about? What practices did it use to “cure” patients? What is the reasoning behind these practices?
6. When do the adults in Sloane’s life lie to her? Were any of these lies justified? What differentiates white lies from harmful ones?
7. Revisit Sloane’s experience in Dr. Warren’s office. Describe your experience as a reader as you confronted this traumatic scene in the book. How were you feeling? What was going through your head?
8. How would you characterize the narrator’s perspective in this novel? Is Sloane a credible narrator? How do you corroborate her point of view, given what we learn about her damaged memory?
9. When did your suspicions about Realm’s identity arise? Looking back, what clues suggested Realm’s unique role in the Program? How did you feel about Realm, once you knew the truth? Could you trust him, in spite of it?
10. What is the significance behind the particular card game that Sloane, Realm, and other patients played together in the Leisure Room? Contrast Sloane’s experience playing it in the Program, to playing it with Brady and James. What does the game symbolize to you? How might Suzanne Young have used it as a vessel for social commentary?
11. Sloane feels profoundly drawn to Lacey, and then to James, following her treatment in the Program, despite the corruption of all prior memories she’d had of them. Have you ever experienced a similar “instant connection” with someone? What might be the sources of such magnetism between people?
12. Even though her memory was manipulated in the Program, what traits in Sloane remained fixed throughout?
13. How does this novel support or challenge the idea of destiny?
14. The Program has a powerful, cinematic quality to it. Choose a pivotal scene, and describe how you would stage it. What details would you include in the setting? Whom would you cast to represent the characters? What music would be playing on the soundtrack?
15. What, or who, is the decision-making force driving the Program? What governs the definitions of “normal” vs. “abnormal,” and “healthy” vs. “corrupted”? What do these terms mean to you?
16. How might rebels fight against the Program? Who would be a part of this resistance? What strategies or tools would be effective in their efforts?
17. Analyze the orange pill at the very end of The Program. What does it represent? What impact does its existence have on Sloane’s story? What impact might it have on the future of the Program, as you imagine it?
18. Explain the epilogue: What is happening? Who is Allison?
Guide written by Catharine Prodromou, a teacher at the Alta Vista School in San Francisco, CA.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Suzanne Young is the New York Times bestselling author of The Program series. Originally from Utica, New York, Suzanne moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She is a novelist and an English teacher, but not always in that order. Suzanne is also the author of Girls with Sharp Sticks, All in Pieces, Hotel for the Lost, and several others novels for teens. Visit her online at AuthorSuzanneYoung.com or follow her on Instagram at @AuthorSuzanneYoung.