Click on the photo below to view my VLOG on the applications of The Program as a dystopia to current debate and dicussion:
Young, Suzanne. The Program. New York, Simon Pulse, 2014.
Social taboos (both in literature and in everyday discussion) include abuse, violence, religion, sex, and even diversity; however, these topics are still covered in considerable detail in most young adult novels. On the other hand, although self-harm, depression, and suicide are equally as sensitive topics as the aforementioned taboos, their discussion is both frowned upon and avoided. As a broad scope, there has been a sizable amount of novels published regarding teenage depression; however, they constitute an extremely small fraction of the popularity that young adult novels–with thematic elements involving romance and self-discovery–generally hold. Delving more specifically into dystopian young adult literature, this number is even smaller; in fact, over the approximately 600 (give or take) young adult dystopian novels published within the past few years, Google search results yield specific dystopian genres ranging from science fiction to romance, with a single dystopian novel discussing teen depression and suicide: The Program by Suzanne Young.
Generally speaking, and as observed in this course, dystopian novels gain popularity due to their ability to feed on actual, plausible fears rooting from modern day society. What makes dystopian literature especially unique and appealing, however, is its ability to appeal to readers through other popular teenage interests (e.g. The Hunger Games with romance, The Uglies with self acceptance, Matched with science fiction). One of the most pressing issues in modern society is the struggle with mental health; in fact, depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States in teens and adults, and in 2014 alone, 2.8 million teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode. One major benefit of an increase in popular novels discussing depression is that it allows for teenagers to not only feel more comfortable with the validity of the problems they might be facing, but for the introduction of a possible solution. Additionally, a huge aspect of societal debate is the role that authority figures can play to help, and novels discussing this might allow for more exposure of and solutions to deeper-rooted problems and misconceptions in society. However, both of these raise questions: who determines what is relevant to teenagers? In what ways could thematic dystopian teenage depression novels backfire?
“Teen Depression Statistics & Facts.” Teen Help, 9 Feb. 2016, www.teenhelp.com/teen-depression/teen-depression-statistics/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
“YA Books About/Mentioning Depression, Self-Harm And Suicide (201 books).” Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/list/show/13907.YA_Books_About_Mentioning_Depression_Self_Harm_And_Suicide. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
Formally, young adult novels are generally categorized as novels written toward a target age group of 12 to 18 years; however, in the past decade, loads of novels have been written under the “young adult” novel genre gathering an audience from the range of 15 to 25 years of age. When looking specifically at young adult dystopian novels, the same trend can be observed, with novels like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth gathering a massive fanbase from an older age group. In order to do this, young adult dystopian novels seem to have sub-genres of recurring themes–romance, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic–that appeal more specifically to modern-day interests of young adults. The idea is to find a present-day fascination or issue facing the millennial generation, and building around it as a common theme throughout the book to make it more engaging and ‘relatable’ to the reader; however, more sensitive subjects are not necessarily always discussed in novels.
One of the biggest issues facing the current generation of young adults is depression, a common cause of suicide. In fact, in the
United States in 2015 alone, the suicide rate among 15 to 24 year olds was 12.5%, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The sensitivity toward the topic and the social blacklist surrounding its connotations has made it a topic difficult to discuss, despite the importance of understanding it and the ways to combat it. As a result, despite parenting books and psychological journals, there is a lack of written works about teen depression; however, Suzanne Young manages to expose the dangers of teen depression and our societal neglect of its importance in an interesting way. Published in 2013, The Program follows the life of Sloane Barstow, a teenager living in a dystopian, suicide-ridden society. Essentially, in this society, students are closely monitored for depression; once any signs of it are detected, they are flagged down and sent to “The Program,” where their memories are erased and the person is returned to their family without a trace of the memories that triggered the depression. However, as seen in the book, this program backfires; not only do students lose a part of who they are, but they are so terrified by the thought of The Program that they hide their sadness even further to avoid being sent off. Not only does this shed a light on the dangers of repressing depression, but it exposes the other factors that make younger people susceptible to suicide, including the lack of understanding from adults. Additionally, Young integrates other thematic elements more characteristic of young adult dystopias, including romance, which makes the novel even more appealing to her targeted audience. Overall, although a sensitive topic, teen depression and suicide is a huge and recurring issue of everyday life–so why isn’t it a recurring theme in young adult literature?
Young, Suzanne. The Program. New York, Simon Pulse, 2014.
Me, About. “The Program by Suzanne Young.” The Program by Suzanne Young, 18 Jul. 2o13, librisnotes.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-program-by-suzanne-young.html. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.
“Suicide Statistics .” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.