The Program by Suzanne YoungThe Program by Suzanne Young

The Program

bySuzanne Young

Hardcover | April 30, 2013

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In Sloane’s world, 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. And The Program is coming for them.
Suzanne Young was born in New York in 1976. She later moved to Arizona for a warmer climate. She started teaching high school English in Tempe. She soon discovered her love for writing. When she is not busy writing she is searching her own memories for inspiration. She is the author of several books for teens including: A Desire So Dea...
Title:The ProgramFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:416 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.3 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.5 × 1.3 inPublished:April 30, 2013Publisher:Simon PulseLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1442445807

ISBN - 13:9781442445802

Appropriate for ages: 14


Rated 3 out of 5 by from A solid three stars ...but not worthy of much more. The Program has a mediocre plot at best. It also lacks diversity and representation; most if not all of the characters appear to be white, cisgender and straight. But it wasn't necessarily a bad read.
Date published: 2019-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book! My daughter loved this book! Bough the second in the series before she was done this one, which took her no time to read.
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good series I really liked this series, the book had me hooked right from the beginning. a great dystopian future with a love story. Highly recommend these books. #plumreviews
Date published: 2018-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVE!!!! I was very surprised it only took me the first 3 pages to get into it. I am addicted to this book and i can't wait to start reading the second one! I can't believe this book does not have more reviews For sure recommand!
Date published: 2018-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book/series has taken over my life. My absolute favorite series ever. I first randomly picked this book up in a store one day and had no idea the impact it would have on me. I think it's completely underrated.
Date published: 2018-04-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heavy and Heartbreaking So I knew going in that the content of this book was going to be heavy, but holy cow, this was the most emotionally ravaging book I've ever read. Which is saying something. It doesn't let up and could likely act as a trigger for those suffering with depression or who have had loved ones affected by it, and one thing I enjoyed was that the book doesn't try to offer one of those sappy "It'll all get better" concepts. But nor does it shy away from putting main character Sloane through some truly horrible situations. So many that I almost had to stop because it seemed like too much to handle at once, particularly in the first two parts of the book. But all of this isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it. The concept, while heartbreaking, is engaging and really dives into the drama. Characters Sloane, James, and Realm are layered and interesting. The romance is abundant and equal parts painful and touching. This book might be emotionally rough to read, but it is very well written and definitely worth picking up if you're looking for a drama/romance heavy book.
Date published: 2018-04-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Captivating Good read. My boyfriend likes them better though.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Series This is a really great series that keeps you at the end of your seat waiting to see what happens next. I recommend having the rest of the books in the series as you won't want to wait too long to continue on reading. Highly Recommend. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I want to read the next one a.s.a.p Oh my gosh!! Okay, to start this book was a lot lighter than I was expecting, which isn't always a bad thing, but when I bought it I thought it was going to be a night spent bawling when in reality it just left me on edge the entire time. I am really happy with this book but at the same time I wanted a lot more than it delivered, going to buy the next one as soon as I can though, high hopes for The Treatment.
Date published: 2017-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from different story such a cool story I loved the take on what could of been a very dark topic. But the author made it lighter. If you love dystopia type novels take a look at this one.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! It had a big twist on society today!
Date published: 2017-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED IT!! who doesn't love a good novel about a dystopian society?? This novel is so well put together it is honestly one of my favorites, once you read the first one you'll want to read the whole series. The Program is thrilling, romantic, sad, etc. this novel is like the definition of YA novels. I have my fingers crossed that they turn this novel into a film.
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Program Review I absolutely enjoyed this novel.. it has everything. Action, romance, mystery, horror, plot keeps you guessing. This sounds like a horrible world to live in... and the thing that pulls you in are the characters. Sloane, Lacy, James, Miller, Realm, Roger...they are all memorable/hated. If you're looking for a very interesting, gripping, fast paced novel PICK THIS BOOK UP! I know a lot of people are over the 'dystopian' themed novels...but this could be a world we live in. I'm not sure how suicide could become an epidemic but it's pretty scary to think about.. just regular people living their lives and then they are infected with depression. And even though this novel is fiction it shows what people are going through when they are depressed and how sometimes or a lot of the times you don't see the signs before they commit suicide.
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! It was an amazing book that gives you a different take on depression etc. Highly recommend you read it!
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Program Serious subject matter handled in a thoughtful, thought-provoking way and this book was much more romantic than I thought it would be. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from OK I had a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief for this book. I would really hope that if there ever were an epidemic of suicide that psychological science would prevail and no one would even think about removing memories by force and especially no repression of feelings. Also the romance was a bit overdone at times. However despite the issues, it was an entertaining read for the first 3/4 of the book. I don't think I'll be continuing the series as the first chapter of the next book didn't catch my interest.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thrilling This book had such an interesting and unique story line, I couldn't put it down!!
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insightful I love the premise of this book simply because it is unlike anything I have ever read before and I found it really effective at addressing many of the issues that exist in today's society. For me, the protagonist in this novel (Sloane) is a powerful one, as she stands up for what she believes in and never backs down from a fight. I'm excited to see what happens between Sloane and James in the next book in this series.
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Quite creepy Read the back cover of the book and was really interested in the premise. However, I thought the romance and relationships were a bit too unrealistic. Probably not a good idea for teenagers, in case they get any wrong ideas from reading this book. I'm interested to see if the sequel is any different.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book for Dystopian Lovers I love dystopian world books, this one did not disappoint - on par with the Divergent and Legend series - the ups and downs are so relatable - you really feel for the characters.
Date published: 2017-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So Good! I stayed up way to late reading this book! It was so good I could not stop!
Date published: 2017-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Great book! I read it on a vacation and I couldnt put it down. Its really interesting and it never gets boring.
Date published: 2016-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from eye opening I read this book 4 years ago and it stayed my favourite book for the entire year. honestly, the summary makes it sound really boring but I promise you it is very fast paced and eyeopening especially for young (no pun intended) readers.
Date published: 2016-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Such a great concept and interesting plot line
Date published: 2016-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing book. Read this in just two sittings; I couldn't put the book down! Truly one of the best books I've read in 2016.
Date published: 2016-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not what I expected! I thought this book would be boring and depressing but it was truly amazing! I LOVED IT
Date published: 2016-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it i just finished reading this book and i am so inlove with the story line. Can't wait to finish the second book
Date published: 2016-03-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How bad is the cure, really The world of The Program is a scary one to imagine. Teen suicide is rampant and parents are willing to go to extremes to protect their children. The government has established The Program to save their children, but it exacts a steep price, their memories. Sloane lost her older brother two years ago, and the only thing that has kept her going is her boyfriend James. Now he is at risk. Author Suzanne Young depicts a desperate world where the teen suicide rate is extremely high. The anxiety that the characters are feeling comes across clear and strong. If they aren't depressed already, then the fear they feel about being taken into The Program could edge them into a downward spiral. It was fairly easy to feel the surreal life that Sloan and her friends were living in. Their every move and word was being watched. Teens don't function well under that type of scrutiny even when things are going well. I enjoyed all the twists and turns of this story. Part One was quite bleak with despair. From Pat Two onward, it was a different feeling, easier to read and even enjoy. Sloane and James seemed like real people to me. Their joys and sorrows were totally in keeping with the responses of seventeen year olds. I was cheering them on the entire book. While not a cheerful read, I could hardly put it down.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Intersting Premise I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like it — the premise was unique, that depression and suicide is an almost viral epidemic among teenagers and needs to be treated by reprogramming them. But, somehow, I didn’t love the book. Maybe the romance was too predictable? Not sure. It was definitely one of those formulaic bad boy/good girl romances. However, I did enjoy the world building of the dystopian future and the imagination of the epidemic and the story moved along. The teenagers were definitely the more well rounded characters and it frustrated me that the adults, while trying to prevent suicide in teens, did everything to promote it by not allowing anything but good feelings or off you go to get programmed. Anyone living under that kind of pressure would crack. It just felt like in their protection of kids the adults lost all common sense.
Date published: 2016-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Up all night This book will keep you reading and wanting to know more. I was up all night reading it. :) This book is so well written you will not be disappointed
Date published: 2015-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from omfg i lurved it omg i love this book i wont make this too long but get ready for some "feels" moments i cried like a baby i wont put any spoilers but i was a big ass baby even though in most books i dont find the sad parts sad usually just suspenseful but what Suzzane young did in this book was use teen drama and what would tear us apart from the inside out and put into one book it broke my heart (im currently dating someone) If this had ever happened to me i would feel like the end of the world i would never get over it but i guess i wont remember it....... :'(
Date published: 2015-09-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It was pretty good I'll probably get the next one too
Date published: 2015-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting read Interesting read. Love how the plot progress. The situation does seems real enough.
Date published: 2015-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Program Definitely a page turner... Story's well written with a lead into the Program and how the Program runs to erase memories...
Date published: 2015-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved This Book! I bought this book not too long ago. Im usually not that into books and reading in general, but I liked the idea of this book so I thought I would at least give it a chance. I absolutely could not put this book down. I was full of many different emotions and I started crying many times throughout the book. I would definitely recommend this INCREDIBLE book! I can't wait to run to my local Chapters and pick up the second and third books.
Date published: 2015-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The program I love it even thought I am still reading it i love the trill that the program gives you and it was recomended by ine of my friends olivia and even thiught Im still redng it I hightly recomend it for young bults or teens like me!
Date published: 2015-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good I loved this book and I read it in 4 days but if it weren't for school I would have finished it sooner. But its a really good book.
Date published: 2015-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book is AMAZING!!! Everything was amazing. It was a little devastating especially in part two. But overall a big thumbs up:-) Definitely an amazing read!
Date published: 2014-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Suzanne at Her Best! This is a book about love, suicide, friendship and what it's like to live in a world where sadness is forbidden. I read this novel in the summer of 2013. I picked it up on a whim and I have to say I'm glad I did. This book has made its way onto my top 10 favorite dystopian fiction novels! Although this book can be considered lengthy, at no point did Young ever fail to entertain me. She showed suspense without being annoying and she used vocabulary that always made you feel that you living in the time standing right beside Sloane. Almost a year later I still remember every detail of this novel. I was - and still am- ever so surprised that such an amazing author is so little known. Her characters were flawless, and I got to learn so much about all of them without them even having to have their own P.O.V. My favorite thing about this book was by far the fact that Sloane wasn't your stereotypical female heroine/lead she didn't plot to take down the government and she didn't ride around the place waiting for a prince charming to save her after she fell. If I had to choose something I didn't like about 'The Program' by Suzanne Young, is the way it ended. However, a sequel was released so, I rest my case. I recommend this book to any Y.A dystopian fiction readers. 5/5 from me! I really wish Young gets the attention she deserves for such an amazing novel!
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read! I suffer from major depression and thought that this sounded very interesting, I was not disappointed. I stayed up most of the night reading and finished it when I got up. The ending has me confused and wanting more!
Date published: 2014-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review from Swept Away By Books OH. MY. GAWD. This book KILLED me it was so good! I was not expecting that and I am seriously so happy right now. I've been kind of put off by basically anything that's not contemporary so I picked this one up a little wary and I am so glad that I did. We learn about the world that Sloane lives in as not a dystopian society really and that's what is so frightening about it. Because teen suicide happens all the time, but what happens when it becomes a world wide epidemic? The Program is created. What I found so creepy was that other than the epidemic, life occurred the same as it does now. MTV, texting, and every other mundane thing you can think of that happens in a teenagers life is still going on. The characters in The Program don't live under some tyrannical government; They live in a somewhat normal world. As Sloane and the absolute love of her life, James try and survive in a world where showing any true emotion will land them in the Program to have their memories wiped, they confide in each other in quiet moments, where they feel like they can fully express themselves without having to watch for Handlers that will take them in. I have to say, this was one of the best romances i've read in a long time. Sloane and James were so incredibly dedicated to each other and were so madly in love (to quote the book) that going through everything that they went through was so heart wrenching to read. I honestly haven't felt so deeply for a character as I did for Sloane in a long time. Sloane is tough in the sense that she held back her emotions and her grief over her brother's death for so long that it makes me wonder if I would ever be able to be brave in that sense. James was the kind of character with who you can't help but fall in love with. His utter dedication to Sloane and his loyalty to his friends was what made some of the events really difficult to get through. Young really didn't shy away from sex in this book, which is so realistic for teenagers. It made the relationship between them seem so much deeper and serious because of the fact that sex wasn't some taboo, like it can be in YA. As we progress through the book, Sloane goes through The Program and my heart reached out to this poor girl while at the same time I was screaming at her not to do certain things. It was so frustrating at times! And weirdly enough, I love that about books because it keeps me totally hooked. The reconnection of James and Sloane was painstaking to read, but so hopeful at the same time. AND THAT END! What even happened there. I don't even know. I am confused and full of questions and generally just FREAKING OUT. I want the second book SO BAD! I would LOVE to read a story about James' time in the program as he relives and eventually loses his memories. Suzanne Young, think that could happen? *pretty please with extra love on top ;)* I also really loved the cover. It fit so unbelievably well into the story. The bright, sunshiney yellow scrubs, to the stark white of the walls, and the delicate but fierce hold of Sloane and James holding hands was so perfect. Overall The Program was phenomenal and I am SO happy I took time away from my contemporaries to pick this one up. If you haven't yet, you don't know what you are missing out on! Fast paced, frightening and seriously realistic, The Program is one wild ride that I could not put down.
Date published: 2014-04-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Gave me the FEELS! Sloan lives in a world where suicide is an epidemic. Being depressed, lonely and sad will get you flagged by The Program. All the people who are taken in by The Program come back with their memories erased, their lives changed and their past becomes obsolete. Sloane wants nothing more than to just forget about her brother who died right in front of her. With the help of her boyfriend and best friend, they try to keep living their lives in the most normal way possible. Until Sloane finds herself all alone, she gets admitted to The Program herself and vows to find a way out. The story that develops in The Program is unique. Imagine depression being contagious and all the people around you deep in a spiral of suicidal thoughts. That’s what Sloan goes through and my God did my heart break just a little for her. Here she is all alone and fighting to keep her memories intact, you can feel her pain leap out of the pages. Her struggles, heartaches and confusion were all so real. The other character that you may have to watch out for is Realm. Not in a good way either because as soon as he appeared on the page, you know you can’t trust him. I nicknamed him “Creepy.” I loved the characters and their relationships and their problems. What I didn’t love was the lack of reasoning behind The Program. Why control people’s lives and erase their thoughts completely if they could learn from it. Mind control and hypnosis is such a creeptastic way to solve suicidal tendencies that I couldn’t believe what I was reading. *shivers*
Date published: 2013-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So far, it's my favourite YA book in 2013! Absolutely loved it!! Wow, I think this book has now moved into the top spot for my favourite YA book of 2013! In this dystopian world, the suicide rate amongst teenagers is on the rise, with one out of every three teens succumbing to the tragedy. Scientists have failed to determine the cause and have speculated that it could be due to pesticides used in the production of food or contaminants in vaccines. They believe the most likely cause is due to overuse of anti-depressants in the generation of the parents, which has altered the chemical makeup of their offspring making them more prone to depression. The protagonist is Sloane Barstow, a 17 year-old teenage girl whose school district in Oregon has established a program where students are observed closely for any changes in their manner or disposition that could signal the threat of depression. If a person is exhibiting any such symptoms, they are flagged and handlers are called in to take the “infected” student to a treatment facility. The patient will be subjected to a cocktail of pills that will strip away the troubling memories that are affecting their mood. The Program generally lasts about six weeks, and then the patient is released but is not permitted to mingle unsupervised with the regular teens. These patients, referred to as “returners,” attend high school with other returners and will remain there until graduation. If they wish to visit with friends, they can do so at the Wellness Centre while being chaperoned by a handler. Once the teens turn 18 years of age, they cannot be forced into treatment. Sloane’s brother, Brady, committed suicide when she was 15 years old. Her boyfriend, James Murphy, was Brady’s best friend and he is the only person who is holding Sloane together. He keeps reminding her that they cannot show any vulnerability and must hide their true feelings or risk being flagged. When one of Sloane’s friends is forced into treatment, it sets off a chain-reaction from which there is no turning back. Fearing for the safety of their only remaining child, Sloane’s parents call in the handlers to have her taken away. Sloane is adamant that they will not succeed in erasing her memories, and she is desperate to hold onto her identity. The Program is one of those books that just grabbed me from the get-go and never let me go! The concept of being taken against one’s will into a program that would brainwash me is so frightening. A teenager wouldn’t be able to trust anyone. What a way to live! Young created a gripping, emotional story with a sweet romance that has me yearning for more! I cannot wait to read the sequel, The Treatment, which is expected to be released in April 2014. That seems so far away, so I’m definitely planning to check out her A Need So Beautiful series while I wait. Just a caution out there for the parents: There is sexual content, so I would recommend this one only for those at the upper end of the teen range. Memorable quote: “He said that some things are better left in the past and true things are destined to repeat themselves.” This is my second narration by Joy Osmanski, and she was bang-on! She captured Sloane’s emotions perfectly, and she made it very hard for me to put this book down. I received this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any compensation for my review, and the views expressed herein are my own.
Date published: 2013-07-30

Read from the Book

The Program CHAPTER ONE THE AIR IN THE ROOM TASTES STERILE. THE LINGERING scent of bleach is mixing with the fresh white paint on the walls, and I wish my teacher would open the window to let in a breeze. But we’re on the third floor so the pane is sealed shut—just in case anyone gets the urge to jump. I’m still staring at the paper on my desk when Kendra Phillips turns around in her seat, looking me over with her purple contacts. “You’re not done yet?” I glance past her to make sure Mrs. Portman is distracted at the front of the room, and then I smile. “It’s far too early in the morning to properly psychoanalyze myself,” I whisper. “I’d almost rather learn about science.” “Maybe a coffee spiked with QuikDeath would help you focus on the pain.” My expression falters; just the mention of the poison enough to send my heart racing. I hold Kendra’s empty stare—a deadness behind it that even purple contacts can’t disguise. Her eyes are ringed with heavy circles from lack of sleep, and her face has thinned sharply. She’s exactly the kind of person who can get me in trouble, and yet I can’t look away. I’ve known Kendra for years, but we’re not really friends, especially now. Not when she’s been acting depressed for close to a month. I try to avoid her, but today there’s something desperate about her that I can’t ignore. Something about the way her body seems to tremble even though she’s sitting still. “God, don’t look so serious,” she says, lifting one bony shoulder. “I’m just kidding, Sloane. Oh, and hey,” she adds as if just remembering the real reason she turned to me in the first place. “Guess who I saw last night at the Wellness Center? Lacey Klamath.” She leans forward as she tells me, but I’m struck silent. I had no idea that Lacey was back. Just then the door opens with a loud click. I glance toward the front of the classroom and freeze, my breath catching in my throat. The day has just become significantly worse. Two handlers with crisp white jackets and comb-smoothed hair stand in the doorway, their expressionless faces traveling over us as they seek someone out. When they start forward, I begin to wilt. Kendra spins around in her seat, her back rigid and straight. “Not me,” she murmurs, her hands clasped tightly in front of her like she’s praying. “Please, not me.” From her podium, Mrs. Portman begins her lesson as if there’s no interruption. As if people in white coats should be waltzing in during her speech on the kinetic theory of matter. It’s the second time the handlers have interrupted class this week. The men separate to opposite sides of the classroom, their shoes tapping on the linoleum floor as they come closer. I look away, opting to watch the leaves fall from the trees outside the window instead. It’s October, but the summer has bled into fall, bathing us all in unexpected Oregon sunshine. I wish I could be anywhere else right now. The footsteps stop, but I don’t acknowledge them. I can smell the handlers near me—antiseptic, like rubbing alcohol and Band-Aids. I don’t dare move. “Kendra Phillips,” a voice says gently. “Can you please come with us?” I hold back the sound that’s trying to escape from behind my lips, a combination of relief and sympathy. I refuse to look at Kendra, terrified that the handlers will notice me. Please don’t notice me. “No,” Kendra says to them, her voice choked off. “I’m not sick.” “Ms. Phillips,” the voice says again, and this time I have to look. The dark-haired handler leans to take Kendra by the elbow, guiding her from the chair. Kendra immediately lashes out, yanking her arm from his grasp as she tries to clamor over her desk. Both men descend on her as Kendra thrashes and screams. She’s barely five feet, but she’s fighting hard—harder than the others. I feel the tension rolling off the rest of the class, all of us hoping for a quick resolution. Hoping that we’ll make it another day without getting flagged. “I’m not sick!” Kendra yells, breaking from their hold once again. Mrs. Portman finally stops her lesson as she looks on with a pained expression. The calm she tries to exude is fraying at the edges. Next to me a girl starts crying and I want to tell her to shut up, but I don’t want to attract attention. She’ll have to fend for herself. The dark-haired handler wraps his arms around Kendra’s waist, lifting her off the floor as she kicks her legs out. A string of obscenities tears from her mouth as saliva leaks from the corners. Her face is red and wild, and all at once I think she’s sicker than we ever imagined. That the real Kendra is no longer in there, and maybe hasn’t been since her sister died. My eyes well up at the thought, but I push it down. Down deep where I can keep all my feelings until later when there’s no one watching me. The handler puts his palm over Kendra’s mouth, muffling her sounds as he whispers soothing things into her ear, continuing to work her bucking body toward the door. The other handler dashes ahead to hold it open. Just then the man holding Kendra screams out and drops her, shaking his hand as if she bit him. Kendra jumps up to run and the handler lunges for her, his closed fist connecting with her face. The shot sends her into Mrs. Portman’s podium before knocking her to the ground. The teacher gasps as Kendra flops in front of her, but Mrs. Portman only backs away. Kendra’s top lip is split wide open and leaking blood all over her gray sweater and the white floor. She barely has time to process what happened when the handler grabs her by the ankle and begins to drag her—caveman style—toward the exit. Kendra screams and begs. She tries to hold on to anything within her reach, but instead she’s leaving a trail of blood along the floor. When they finally get to the doorway, she raises her purple eyes in my direction, reaching out a reddened hand to me. “Sloane!” she screams. And I stop breathing. The handler pauses, glancing over his shoulder at me. I’ve never seen him here before today, but something about the way he’s watching me now makes my skin crawl, and I look down. I don’t lift my head again until I hear the door shut. Kendra’s shouts are promptly cut off in the hallway, and I wonder momentarily if she was Tasered or injected with a sedative. Either way, I’m glad it’s over. Around the room, there are several sniffles, but it’s mostly silent. Blood still covers the front of the room in streaks of crimson. “Sloane?” the teacher asks, startling me. “I haven’t gotten your daily assessment yet.” Mrs. Portman starts toward the closet where she keeps the bucket and mop, and other than the high lilt of her voice, she has no noticeable reaction to Kendra being dragged from our class. I swallow hard and apologize, moving to take my pencil from my backpack. As my teacher sloshes the bleach on the floor, choking us with the smell once again, I begin to shade in the appropriate ovals. In the past day have you felt lonely or overwhelmed? I stare down at the bright white paper, the same one that waits at our desk every morning. I want to crumple it into a ball and throw it across the room, scream for people to acknowledge what just happened to Kendra. Instead I take a deep breath and answer. NO. This isn’t true—we all feel lonely and overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m not sure there’s another way to feel. But I know the routine. I know what a wrong answer can do. Next question. I fill in the rest of the ovals, pausing when I get to the last one, just like I do every time. Has anyone close to you ever committed suicide? YES. Marking that answer day after day nearly destroys me. But it’s the one question where I have to tell the truth. Because they already know the answer. After signing my name at the bottom, I grab my paper with a shaky hand and walk up to Mrs. Portman’s desk, standing in the wet area where Kendra’s blood used to be. I try not to look down as I wait for my teacher to put away the cleaning products. “Sorry,” I tell her again when she comes to take the sheet from me. I notice a small smudge of blood on her pale pink shirtsleeve, but don’t mention it. She looks over my answers, and then nods, filing the paper in the attendance folder. I hurry back to my seat, listening to the tense silence. I wait for the sound of the door, the approaching footsteps. But after a long minute, my teacher clears her throat and goes back to her lesson on friction. Relieved, I close my eyes. Teen suicide was declared a national epidemic—killing one in three teens—nearly four years ago. It always existed before that, but seemingly overnight handfuls of my peers were jumping off buildings, slitting their wrists—most without any known reason. Strangely enough, the rate of incidence among adults stayed about the same, adding to the mystery. When the deaths first started increasing, there were all sorts of rumors. From defective childhood vaccines to pesticides in our food—people grasped for any excuse. The leading view says that the oversupply of antidepressants changed the chemical makeup of our generation, making us more susceptible to depression. I don’t know what I believe anymore, and really, I try not to think about it. But the psychologists say that suicide is a behavioral contagion. It’s the old adage “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” Apparently the answer is yes. To fight the outbreak, our school district implemented the pilot run of The Program—a new philosophy in prevention. Among the five schools, students are monitored for changes in mood or behavior, flagged if a threat is determined. Anyone exhibiting suicidal tendencies is no longer referred to a psychologist. Instead, the handlers are called. And then they come and take you. Kendra Phillips will be gone for at least six weeks—six weeks spent in a facility where The Program will mess with her mind, take her memories. She’ll be force-fed pills and therapy until she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. After that they’ll ship her off to a small private school until graduation. A school designated for other returners, other empty souls. Like Lacey. My phone vibrates in my pocket and I let out a held breath. I don’t have to check to know what it means—James wants to meet. It’s the push I need to get through the rest of the period, the fact that he’s waiting for me. The fact that he’s always waiting for me. •  •  • As we file out of the classroom forty minutes later, I notice the dark-haired handler in the hallway, watching us. He seems to take extra time on me, but I try hard not to notice. Instead I keep my head down and walk quickly toward the gymnasium to find James. I check over my shoulder to make sure no one is following me before turning down the stark white corridor with the metal double doors. It’s nearly impossible to trust anyone not to report you for suspicious behavior. Not even our parents—especially not our parents. It was Lacey’s father who called The Program to tell them that she was unwell. So now James, Miller, and I do everything we can to keep up the front at home. Smiles and small talk equal well-balanced and healthy. I wouldn’t dare show my parents anything else. Not now. But once I turn eighteen, The Program loses its hold on me. I won’t be a minor so they can no longer force me into treatment. Although my risk doesn’t technically lower, The Program is bound to the laws of the land. I’ll be an adult, and as an adult it’s my God-given right to off myself if I so please. Unless the epidemic gets worse. Then who knows what they’ll do. When I get to the gymnasium doors, I push on the cold metal bar and slip inside. It’s been years since this part of the building was used. The Program cut athletics immediately after taking over, claiming it added too much competitive stress to our fragile student population. Now this space is used for storage—unused desks piled in the corner, stacks of unneeded textbooks. “Anyone see you?” I jump and look at James as he stands in the cramped space underneath the folded bleachers. Our space. The emotionless armor I’ve been wearing weakens. “No,” I whisper. James holds out his hand to me and I meet him in the shadows, pressing myself close to him. “It’s not a good day,” I murmur against his mouth. “It rarely is.” James and I have been together for over two years—since I was fifteen. But I’ve known him my entire life. He’d been best friends with my brother, Brady, before he killed himself. I choke on the memory, like I’m drowning in it. I pull from James and bang the back of my head on the corner of the wooden bleacher above us. Wincing, I touch my scalp, but don’t cry. I wouldn’t dare cry at school. “Let me see,” James says, reaching to rub his fingers over the spot. “You were probably protected by all this hair.” He grins and lets his hand glide into my dark curls, resting it protectively on the back of my neck. When I don’t return his smile, he pulls me closer. “Come here,” he whispers, sounding exhausted as he puts his arms around me. I hug him, letting the images of Brady fade from my head, along with the picture of Lacey being dragged from her house by handlers. I slide my hand under the sleeve of James’s T-shirt and onto his bicep where his tattoos are. The Program makes us anonymous, strips us of our right to mourn—because if we do, we can get flagged for appearing depressed. So James has found another way. On his right arm he’s keeping a list in permanent ink of those we’ve lost. Starting with Brady. “I’m having bad thoughts,” I tell him. “Then stop thinking,” he says simply. “They took Kendra last period. It was horrible. And Lacey—” “Stop thinking,” James says again, a little more forcefully. I look up at him, the heaviness still in my chest as I meet his eyes. It’s hard to tell in the shadows, but James’s eyes are light blue, the sort of crystal blue that can make anyone stop with just a glance. He’s stunning that way. “Kiss me instead,” he murmurs. I lean forward to press my lips to his, letting him have me in a way that only he can. A moment filled with sadness and hope. A bond of secrets and promises of forever. It’s been two years since my brother died. Practically overnight, our lives were changed. We don’t know why Brady killed himself, why he abandoned us. But then again, no one knows what’s causing the epidemic—not even The Program. Above us the bell for class rings, but neither James nor I react. Instead James’s tongue touches mine and he pulls me closer, deepening our kiss. Although dating is allowed, we try to keep our relationship low-key at school, at least when we can. The Program claims that forming healthy bonds keeps us emotionally strong, but then again, if it all goes horribly wrong, they can just make us forget. The Program can erase anything. “I swiped my dad’s car keys,” James whispers between my lips. “What do you say we go skinny-dipping in the river after school?” “How about you get naked and I’ll just watch?” “Works for me.” I laugh, and James gives me one more squeeze before taking his arms from around me. He pretends to fix my hair, really just messing it up more. “Better get to class,” he says finally. “And tell Miller he’s invited to watch me swim naked too.” I back away, first kissing my fingers and then holding them up in a wave. James smiles. He always knows what to say to me. How to make me feel normal. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived Brady’s death without him. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. After all, suicide is contagious.

Editorial Reviews

"[A]n entertaining, and compelling read."