50 pages 1 hour read

Suzanne Young

The Program

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


The Program is a 2014 young adult dystopian novel by Suzanne Young. Young is a novelist specializing in science fiction, thriller, and romance novels in the young adult genre. The novel takes place in a dystopian society where the government declares mental illness an epidemic. The Program follows seventeen-year-old Sloane Barstow, who struggles to reunite with her boyfriend James after a treatment clinic called The Program erases their memories in an attempt to “cure” their depression. The novel explores themes of love and human connection and the power of resistance against oppressive societal systems.

This study guide refers to the 2014 S&S Books for Young Readers print edition.

Content Warning: This guide describes and discusses the source text’s treatment of death by suicide, depression, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and psychological abuse and manipulation. The source material also depicts problematic views surrounding mental illness.

Plot Summary

Sloane Barstow lives in a dystopian society where the government has declared teenage suicide an epidemic. A treatment facility called The Program targets teenagers struggling with depression and treats them against their will. In The Program, doctors erase the teenagers’ memories because they assume that bad memories give teenagers suicidal thoughts.

After class, Sloane meets her boyfriend James Murphy in the gym. James and Sloane have become very close after Sloane’s brother Brady died by suicide. Sloane learns that her best friend Lacey has returned from The Program. Lacey’s boyfriend Miller tries to see her, but she does not remember him. A few weeks later, Miller also dies by suicide. James experiences depression after Miller’s death, and The Program takes him away.

James returns from The Program several weeks later, and he does not remember Sloane. Sloane’s parents call The Program on behalf of Sloane because of her depression. When Sloane sees the handlers, she locks herself in her bedroom. She hides a picture of Brady and James under her mattress. The handlers break her door down and sedate her. In The Program, Sloane meets her therapist Dr. Warren, who gives her pills to help her relax. Sloane befriends another patient named Realm. One day, a handler named Roger offers to give her a purple pill to keep a memory in exchange for sexual favors. Sloane agrees and lets Roger kiss her. Sloane takes the purple pill and thinks about the picture hidden under her mattress.

Sloane tells Realm about Roger’s abuse, which gets Roger fired. A week later, Sloane has trouble remembering things. Realm kisses her, which makes her feel guilty, and she wonders if she has a boyfriend she cannot remember. Sloane waits outside Dr. Warren’s office to apologize to Realm for acting strangely, but she overhears their conversation. Sloane learns that Realm works for The Program. Realm’s purpose is to ensure that Sloane has an emotional connection to make her transition to a state without memories easier. Later, Realm tells Sloane that his feelings for her are genuine. Sloane threatens to tell the other patients about him, and Realm sedates her with a memory loss drug.

Once Sloane leaves The Program, she becomes friends with Lacey at her new school, who warns her that The Program watches them constantly. Sloane feels drawn to James, even though she does not know why. One day, Sloane has a flashback to hiding something under her mattress. When she looks, she finds a picture of Brady and James. She asks James why he is in a picture with Brady, but he does not know. Sloane goes to Realm’s house with James to see if he knows about their memories. Realm explains that Brady died by suicide and that James and Sloane were there when it happened.

Later, Realm tells Sloane about how she and James were in love and that he thinks her body still remembers it. Sloane realizes that this is why she feels drawn to James. The next day, James takes Sloane to the river and tells her that he loves her. Sloane’s mother calls her, and Sloane realizes that her mother has called The Program. James says that they should run away together. James drives Sloane to Realm’s house, but Realm is not there. Realm’s sister, Anna, tells them that Realm had to leave, but he wants to help them escape. Anna gives them supplies and explains that there is a resistance group against The Program that they need to join. She explains how to get to the group and then gives Sloane an orange pill. Anna says that the pill will give her memories back to her; however, they only have one, so James will not remember anything. Sloane decides to keep the pill and decide what she wants to do later, choosing to focus on her life with James in the present. She decides that she wants to join the resistance to fight against The Program.

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