Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Treatment by Suzanne Young

The Treatment is the sequel to The Program, Suzanne Young's novel that explores society's attempts to treat a suicide epidemic among young people.. The Program was instituted because of the epidemic suicide rates among teens. Teens at risk or who have attempted suicide are taken into the Program where their memories are erased and then they are sent back out into society with a handler.

Sloane Barstow and James Murphy are on the run from the Program. They are picked up by Casanova Gutierrez, who has never been in the Program, and Dallas Stone, a Program rebels. They were sent by Michael Realm to take Sloane and James to a safe house in Salt Lake City, Utah. Dallas and Cas tell them that Kevin and Lacey never made it to the border either; they have found Lacey but not Kevin whom they assume has been sent back into the program.

Sloane still refuses to take the yellow pill, known as The Treatment, given to her to her by Michael Realm, which will recover her memories. She refuses for two reasons; there is only one pill so either her or James must take it and she has no idea what the effect will be.

While at the safehouse, Sloane and James struggle with their loss of memories and what they have experienced in the Program. They want to find a safe place to live but they also want to destroy the Program which they now know is harming people irreparably. Sloane learns that Dallas was repeatedly raped by Roger, a handler in the Program and that this has deeply harmed Dallas.

One night Dallas takes Sloane and James to a Suicide Club. The Suicide Club is an underground club where people dress in black and heavy makeup to disguise themselves. Strong drinks are served that help people "feel" again and let loose. Dallas hopes to find other recruits for the rebel cause against the Program. They decide to leave Cas at home to watch Lacey who doesn't seem to be acting normally. She has had headaches and a severe nose bleed. When they return, Sloane finds a note from Lacey and they discover that she has run away. With Lacey missing, this means they will have to leave. However, before they do so there is a confrontation between Realm and James, both of whom love Sloane.

Before they leave for Denver, Arthur Pritchard, the creator of the Program visits them at their safe house, seeking the one remaining pill called the Treatment. Pritchard tells them he lost control of the Program months ago. It is under the control of the US government and the Program is now requiring all teens to undergo treatment in the Program.
"Mandatory admittance for people who aren't even depressed is like mass brainwashing. Some sick and twisted version of utopia"

He tells Sloane that the Program has been misused and that he realizes now that traditional therapy was probably the best option for treating the suicides. He cannot stop the Program because he is under a gag order and will have his memories taken from him if he speaks out. He also reveals that those who are untreatable are lobotomized. He tells Sloane,
"Human beings are cruel creatures. And what we don't understand, we tamper with until we destroy it. The epidemic is forcing the world to focus on mental disease, but they've twisted it into something to be feared, rather than treated."
Pritchard is working on a treatment that will counter the effects of the Program and prevent erasure of memories. He tells them that Dr. Evelyn Valentine created just such a pill called the Treatment which she tested on several people who were returned to the Program. However, before she could complete her work, Valentine disappeared. He believes one or two pills from her research survived and Pritchard hopes to find one to analyze and replicate. Sloane and her companions do not tell him they have the one remaining pill.

When Pritchard departs, the group discovers that James has left. This causes Sloane tremendous hurt and anxiety but she is forced to travel with Realm, Cas and Dallas to another safe house in Denver. During that drive to Denver, Sloane is approached by a reporter, Kellan Thomas from the New York Times who wants to do an expose on what is really happening in the Program. Sloane and James have been on the news as fugitives and are wanted. He tells her that his stories about the Program are being buried and that it is becoming a national scandal and that if she wants to talk she can contact him using his business card.

Sloane, Cas and Dallas find a small farmhouse outside of Lake Tahoe and eventually James meets up with them. However, ai are taken back to the Program when their location is revealed by Cas who has been embedded with them by the Program. Sloane learns from her handler, Asa, that unless she works with him and Realm, who are trying to free her, she will be lobotomized in a weeks time. Can Sloane save herself and stop the Program which is set to wreck the lives of millions of young people?

Young has written a fascinating novel that explores issues surrounding mental illness, specifically depression and suicide in teens. The Treatment considers how we view depression and suicide, how it is treated, and how treatments can be misused in an attempt to "cure". Young creates a chilling tale of abuse within a medical facility, where the patients appear to be the sane ones, while the doctors becoming increasingly manipulative and controlling. This is especially well demonstrated in the relationship between Dr. Beckett and Sloane, with Beckett willing to destroy Sloane in order to save the Program and also in what has happened to Dallas during her treatments. All this is of course a reference back to the mental health facilities in the late 1800s and early 1900's when patients were  incarcerated against their will, sometimes abused, given electro-shock treatment or lobotomized.

Readers will find this novel is slow off the start, with not much happening in the first fifty pages, except the setting up of a weak love triangle between James, Realm and Sloane.  The primary focus is on Sloane and James struggling with their memories or lack of them, and trying to decide what to do with the Treatment pill. However, the pace of the story picks up quickly in Part II The Treatment when Arthur Pritchard comes forward with his appeal to Sloane to help him find the remaining Treatment pill.

Young never quite fully explains some of the questions readers will be left with: exactly what happened to Kevin and Lacey, how did Lacey end up in the Program again, and how did Arthur Pritchard meet the fate he did. How the Program gets dismantled is somewhat unimaginative - a reporter's expose leads to it's demise, given that this is the only means left to Sloane, James and Realm.

Overall, this is an interesting duology that explores the themes of identity, mental illness and human experimentation. Not quite as good as the first novel, but still a worthwhile conclusion.

Book Details:
The Treatment by Suzanne Young
Toronto: Simon Pulse     2014
344 pp.

1 comment:

Viv Pickard said...

Realm was the embedded handler. Cas just wanted to stop running.