The exposition of The Program by Suzanne Young explains that Sloane and James live in a world where teenage suicide affects 1/3 of the teen population. What is the world doing to combat this epidemic? Some communities (like the one Sloane and James live in) have instituted The Program. Every teen 17 and under is watched closely for any sign of depression. They take surveys each day in class, and their answers are scrutinized. They are asked their feelings, but they are not expected to admit that they are lonely, sad, or upset. If they are "flagged" because someone has observed a sign of depression, men called "handlers" come and take them away - to The Program.
When teens interact at school, they act as if they are happy - even if they are breaking inside. They do this because if they are flagged and end up in The Program, they will return without their memories. They will have major holes in their memory, and this is the real threat of The Program. As a result, teens hide away their emotions - in front of their friends, and even their families. (Parents seem quick to call for the handlers to come take their children away - for their own safety, of course.) The irony is, if these teens were allowed to express their emotions and share their feelings with others, the rate of suicide might actually decrease.
This, I believe, is how the author develops the theme, or message of this book. When teens do get to share their feelings with loved ones in the book, they feel better, and can go on to make it through the rest of their day. But it is when the author sets up anxious characters who cannot share their feelings, that they are flagged for The Program anyway. What is the good in that? If we share our grief and frustrations, our anxiety level could decrease, and there would be no need for The Program.
This book made me anxious. I am known to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I would be flagged early. It was quite the thriller, and for mature audiences only.