YA Guy’s probably going to be out of commission for the month of November, as I’m participating in my first NaNoWriMo. But I thought I’d slip in one final book review before the madness begins!
Yes, that’s right: the Annie Dillard. She taught at
Wesleyan University, where I got my B.A. And she was one of the readers for my
senior project, a novel titled (at that time) Selfish People. It currently sits in my closet along with two or three
other unpublished novels.
But I digress.
Dillard basically liked my novel.
She called it a “creditable achievement.” But she also wrote: “This is not, in
any respect, my kind of book.”
At the time, that really stung.
But in the time since, I’ve come to see her words in a positive light. Bottom line: she liked my book, even
though it wasn’t something she would have chosen to read on her own.
Which brings me, in a roundabout
way, to the subject of this review: Suzanne Young’s 2013 novel The Program.
Ordinarily, I’d say that this is
not, in any respect, my kind of book. The story of a near-future society in
which teen suicide has become rampant, claiming the lives of one in three
teens, The Program is full of material I generally shy from: young lust, emotional
overflow, love triumphant. Plus its principal setting--the psychiatric facility
where narrator Sloane is subjected to the Program, her society’s “cure” for the
suicide epidemic--felt far too familiar to other psych wards I’ve seen in YA.
You know, the oppressive, Big Brother type, which seems to be the only type in YA.
But having said all this, I must
also say that I just plain liked The
Program. It won me over. It’s still not my kind of book, but it’s a book
that, for me, transcended its kind.
Maybe that was because I really
liked the characters: Sloane, her boyfriend James, her friend Lacey, her
mysterious buddy in the program, Realm. Maybe it was because I dug the
creepiness of the Program, which functions primarily by erasing its subjects’
memories. (Why this should cure suicidal thinking is never really explained, but
there it is.) Maybe it was because I appreciated the tricky line Young walks in
the novel’s final third, where her characters, memories erased, have to
rediscover a love that readers know from the novel’s first two-thirds. (I read somewhere
that readers should never know more than the MC, and perhaps that’s true in general.
But Young did an excellent job of maintaining suspense and tension despite the reader’s
superior knowledge.) Whatever it was, I found The Program a good, tight read, with a sprinkling of speculative
elements but a far stronger dose of everyday teen reality.
So maybe I need to read more
books that aren’t my kind. Maybe I’ll discover more gems like The Program that way.