Don't cry. Don't be upset. Mourn privately. Hide depression. These are the unspoken rules followed by every American aged 13-17. Showing that you are upset, acting depressed, or crying in public are all things that could land you in The Program, a six-week intense therapy session in a mental clinic. The Program is the only known cure for teen depression, and was started when teen suicide was declared a pandemic.
People never go to The Program willingly. They are turned in if they are suspected of being depressed. Then they are taken (or, more accurately, dragged away) to The Program from school, a friend's place, a vacation site, or even their own home, wherever they are. If a teen runs away from home, they are tracked down by The Program, and they become the subject of a national manhunt.
Patients leave The Program happy, carefree, relaxed. They leave, literally starting a new life, because The Program works by erasing memories. People leave remembering nothing except what they are told.
Sloane Barstow is having a hard time suppressing her emotions every day, acting calm filling out the depression assessment at school, acting happy talking with peers and family, not reacting when a student is dragged out of the school by the handlers, medical personnel who manage The Program. Her brother drowned himself. Her friend was taken away. One of her other friends ingested Quikdeath, a poison sold on the black market.
She can only reveal her true feelings when she is around James, her boyfriend. She can't tell her therapist (whom she sees to cope with her brother's suicide), she can't tell her teachers or peers, and she definitely can't tell her parents. Parents are the most likely to turn a teenager over to The Program, out of fear for losing them.
James had made Sloane a promise, that he'd do anything and everything to keep them out of The Program. But when that promise fails, and they both get caught, will they make it out, together?
The Program is the first dystopian novel in a series of six. It immerses us in a world where so many teens, 1 in 3, actually, have committed suicide, that traditional therapy has been abandoned as a means of treatment, and replaced with mind-altering drugs in a mental health facility.
Teens live in fear that they will be taken by the white-coated handlers, and have their mind erased. (Perhaps it is precisely that pressure and fear from The Program that has driven teen suicide up?)
This book hits a bit closer to home than most. I will admit that I have struggled with depression on multiple occasions, and that I had been afraid to tell people, so I dealt with it in other ways. Sometimes I wished I could just forget everything.
Teen depression is becoming way too commonplace in everyday life, and something needs to be done. But maybe memory erasure is not the way to go. Teenagers, children, and adults of all ages need to know that it's okay to talk to someone if they are sad or scared. Needing help is not a weakness, asking for help makes a person strong, because it takes courage to admit it. Hiding suffering is a weakness, because a person is afraid of confronting it.
Teens, don't be afraid to talk to someone like I was. It is okay. You can tell someone. Your parents, your school counselor, a therapist, anyone. Even writing it down in a journal or diary can help relieve a bit of the pressure. Find a healthy outlet to make yourself feel better. Playing a sport, curling up with a good book, trying out a new recipe, writing a cool story, listening to your favorite songs, calling someone up just to chat, these are all great ways to release a bit of that pent-up emotion.
Parents and teachers, if you think that your kid/student is struggling with depression, don't be hesitant to talk to them about it. Even asking the simple question of "Are you feeling okay?" or "How are you?" will let them know that you are there for them and care about them. If they know that, then they feel like they can trust you and can come talk to you if they are having issues.
Deep and heartfelt, this novel is sure to win a spot among your favorites. I recommend this for an audience of 13+.