Today’s been a day of new experiences. I attended my first college football game (my school, Elon University, won in case anyone’s wondering!), bought my first pepper spray (college safety is important), and DNF’ed my first book. Whew, what a day!
I’ve read a lot of discussion posts lately that address the great DNF debate: as readers, do we have the literary right to elect to not finish a book? If we aren’t enjoying a book, should we push through and finish or just say “no thanks?”
In the past, I’ve been on the push-through-and-finish side. As a writer, reading is fuel to the proverbial fire, so reading a wide variety of books helps writers write. Even when I’ve read books I didn’t like in the past, I continued because reading “bad” books is productive too. In truth, I love reading a book and thinking through how I would write it better.
However, I’ve never sought out bad books just to appease my ego. I also love reading books that stretch me, books that make me think in ways I’ve never thought before. Books that pose a challenge inspire me to write at a higher level and motivate me to improve my craft.
So why did I DNF a book today?
The book in question is The Program by Suzanne Young. I’ve had this book on my Goodreads TBR shelf for quite a long time and when I found a discounted version on ThriftBooks, I couldn’t resist. The cover is striking and gorgeous. The synopsis, which I’ve included below, was enticing. This looked like the kind of book that would transport me to a world where my BIO 101 homework no longer existed.
Here is the Goodreads synopsis of The Program:
In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.
Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.
Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.
Sounds freaking awesome, right? I couldn’t wait to start reading and practically jumped out of my skin when it came in the mail. I was so excited that I actually stopped myself from ripping open the packaging so I could do an unboxing on my Instagram. (Shameless plug: make sure you follow Annie Likes Words on Instagram so you can keep up with my day-to-day literary adventures!)
The first chapter or two were a nice transition into the world of Sloane, our protagonist. Depression and teen suicide are an epidemic, so the government instituted The Program to “correct” teenagers who contract depression. Thus far, it was all smooth sailing. Well, the characters had it pretty rough, but it was smooth sailing for me as a reader.
And then we met James. James was Sloane’s devoted boyfriend of two years and self-determined protector of Sloane and their mutual friend (and perpetual third-wheel) Miller. James was a pretty-boy and knew it, which I’m not entirely opposed to if the trope is executed tastefully. However, Sloane seemed to confuse his love for himself with his love for her. I understand how the two could intermingle sometimes, but the relationship didn’t feel genuine.
Sloane was under the impression that James was the sun, moon, and stars. He was her everything because she was his everything. I love a good sappy romance, but seriously? The boy couldn’t hold a conversation without referencing his rock-hard abs. I’m sure he loved Sloane, but his love for himself superseded everything.
About sixty pages in, the exposition stopped and we reached the first plot point. Sloane and James are furiously racing to a friend’s house after receiving a call from him, during which he admitted to taking a drug known as QuikDeath. Sadly, they were too late. Sloane started to cry, which is all but forbidden in their world because it marks the onset of depression, but James isn’t having it. So he slaps her.
And that’s when I slammed the book shut.
I understand the complexities of why James hit Sloane. She was crying, risking exposure, and he didn’t wasn’t to lose his love to The Program. But was physical violence really necessary to send a message? Coupled with his rampant egocentrism and arrogant attitude, I couldn’t take it anymore. I officially thew in the towel on The Program, turned off the lights and drew the curtain. Time of DNF: 9:00 PM.
I might have enjoyed the book if I’d continued reading it. I might come back to it later and give it another chance, but I’ve got plenty of other books to read at the moment and I don’t want to waste my time with a book that offends and confuses me. I’ve got plenty of other books to keep me company.
Do you DNF books? What’s the last book you didn’t finish?