Narrated by Joy Osmanski
Simon & Schuster Audio
Genre: science fiction, YA, dystopian
***TRIGGER ALERT: There is discussion of teen suicide within this book and therefore within this discussion of the book.
After an epidemic has swept the teenage population, everyone 13--18 is under the watchful eye of "handlers" who look for signs of sadness. If you're flagged, you're taken away to the Program and your memories are erased. Not all of them, just the ones who make you who you are. Sloane lives in fear of this after her brother, Brady, killed himself and she is working so hard on not getting "sick" (as they are taught to refer to depression) and not letting her emotions show. When her close friends and her boyfriend start to show signs and are taken away to the Program, Sloan swears she will remember them, she'll make sure she leaves a clue--something to help her, before they take her away too. But things are confusing. There is a lot of medication in the Program that makes it difficult for Sloane to remember who she really is and what it is she's fighting for.
I'm struggling with this book. I'm struggling with a few things.
1) The use of suicide as a means to create more conflict for the characters. So the idea is that there is an epidemic of teen suicides and in order to keep teens safe from themselves, if a teen shows signs of suicide, they are immediately put into the Program. So kids are scared. They live in terror of being flagged. Parents are encouraged to report their children--for their own safety. Teens are encouraged to report their friends--for their own safety. But everyone knows that it's not safe. That memories are erased. So I guess my issue is that suicide is being used here as not only the conflict, but as the only way for kids to truly escape the conflict inflicted by the government and adults. At least two characters within the book successfully complete suicide because they feel the symptoms and refuse to be put in the program. Multiple others try. They're choosing death instead of the Program and the way it's handled makes it seem almost like it is a valid choice. I have a problem with that.
2) The creepiness of the "handlers." Now, granted they aren't all supposed to be creepy, but they are. The handlers are power hungry orderlies stationed in schools to keep an eye out for anyone they deem could harm themselves. For over half of the book there is one in particular who keeps watching Sloan and even ends up being at her facility when she's taken in to the Program. He's bad. He uses girls in the Program and the only one who seems concerned is Realm. Even her handler after she's left the Program and can't remember anything isn't trustworthy--in my opinion. He helps her, but is he really helping her?
***SUPER SPOILER ALERT HERE***
3) The fact that it's not only Realm who is a plant (which was pretty obvious early on) but so is everyone else she has contact with who in the Program. That was a shock and it was one that I didn't like. I'm not sure why it sits so badly for me, but it does.
4) The Epic Romance of the Century. James is controlling. I don't like him. I prefer Realm--even though I know he's a plant and supposed to be nice to her and help her along her road to recovery or whatever. I still like him more than James. James is cocky and controlling. I like Sloan a whole lot better when she has to step it up because she sees James is losing it and she's working really hard to keep him under the radar. I also like her a lot more when she's in the program and talking back and calling people out on their B.S. I don't like her all dopey over James--either before or after the program.
So in the end, I'm unsure of how to rate this. The writing itself was fine and so was the performance of the story. And I finished it. I did want to know what was happening to Sloan and if she would in fact be okay or if she would be sent back to the Program again. But this other things keep nagging me about it. Things that seem problematic--not on a story telling level, but another level.
I realize it's fictional and set in dystopic world. I also realize that maybe my discomfort is okay. But I'm not sure. So I can't really rate this one. It's either a 2 or a 4 Might not seem that big of a difference, but that seems like a big difference to me.
Are there any books that you've struggled to come up with a good rating? Are there parts of the book that make you question it, even though the writing itself is fine?