Depressed Dystopia: The Program – by Suzanne Young

Dystopian, Romance

Often in dystopian books, one destructive force – usually an evil leader, government or science experiment – is held responsible for the world’s problems. In The Program‘s case, Sloane, the protagonist, blames epidemic teenage depression and the government’s extreme measures to combat it. She dreams of a better life without these issues, convinced that they are the root of her troubles. This is implausible, even in a fictional setting. If mental illnesses were somehow cured and the government was reformed or replaced, wouldn’t other difficulties still exist? Yes, life would be better – but it certainly wouldn’t be perfect. The irony of dystopian novels is their surprising proximity to utopian ones: they describe worlds in which everything would be perfect, if only for the elimination of a handful of difficulties. Sloane’s tunnel vision, perhaps due to the gravity of her circumstances, means that she is unable to look past them. Is this done to simplify the reader’s experience, or to encourage appreciation of their own reality? This naive approach makes for an enjoyable read. People like a black-and-white world, desperate to grasp onto something, or someone, to point the finger at. Although there’s no doubt that I love reading YA dystopias, this is their fatal flaw, a common feature that often defines them as lower-quality books.

Despite this fault, I enjoyed the book, finishing it in days (which is quick for me). Likeable – although complex and confused – characters, an interesting plot line and frustrating developments that, increasingly, create dramatic irony (the reader knows much more about the ‘bigger picture’ than the protagonist and her peers do) impelled me to read on. I struggled, however, to appreciate the extent – even the existence – of the depression experienced by many characters. From what I understand, depression is powerful yet ephemeral. It can’t simply be characterised (as this book does) by someone repeatedly doodling black spirals or vacantly staring into the distance. This lack of description and dimension diminished The Program‘s credibility and intrigue; although this could have been intentional (to make a mystery of the illness or suggest the government’s incompetence to properly cure the illness), I’m not convinced.

On the whole, I loved the characters and was captivated by the plot, but the writing is lacklustre, over-dramatised, and at times ‘world-building’ is flimsy. Read if you’re looking for a standard YA dystopia, but don’t be disappointed by its mediocrity.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA (6)

Writing: AAAAA (5)

Pace: Medium/Slow

Buy on Amazon (UK)

Buy at Barnes & Noble (US)

Buy on Amazon (US)

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Catalyst – By Helena Coggan

Dystopian, Sci-Fi

Catalyst is about a world that is divided between the magically Gifted and the non-magical Ashkind. The protagonist, Rose Elmsworth, is a Gifted, with a dangerous secret about her identity. When an old enemy of her father threatens to reveal her secret, she must betray her loved ones in order to protect them.

Every detail in Catalyst has been intricately thought out; the sheer credulity alone struck me as quite spectacular, rivalling hugely popular trilogies like Divergent and The Hunger Games. However, at times, I felt the characters fell flat, and I lost interest in them. Nonetheless, I always managed to be drawn into the story in some way, and by the end I was desperate for a sequel.

I would recommend this book for people who like sci-fi, fantasy or dystopian books, as it occupies all of these genres. It’s a fairly light read on terms of readability,which is expected from a YA book. This book is suitable for 11-year-olds and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Medium/Fast