How do you go back to a life you can’t remember? Find out in this fifth book in the New York Times bestselling Program series.
Tatum Masterson never went through The Program. She never had her memory stripped, never had to fight to remain herself. But when Weston, her longtime boyfriend and love of her life, was taken by handlers, she hoped he’d remember her somehow—that their love would be strong enough.
Like all returners, Weston came back a blank canvas. The years he and Tatum spent together were forgotten, as well as the week when he mysteriously disappeared before The Program came for him.
Regardless of his memory loss, Tatum fights to get Weston to remember her. And just as they start to build a new love, they hear about the Adjustment—a new therapy that implants memories from a donor. Despite the risks, Tatum and Weston agree to go through the process. Tatum donates her memories from their time together.
But the problem with memories is that they are all a matter of perspective. So although Weston can now remember dating Tatum, his emotions don’t match the experiences. And this discrepancy is slowly starting to unravel him, worse than anything The Program could have done.
And as the truth of their life together becomes clear, Tatum will have to decide if she loves Weston enough to let him go, or to continue to live the lie they’d build together.
The Adjustment CHAPTER ONE I CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST time I cried.
It’s an odd thought to have in the middle of English class, but for years the threat of being taken, against our will, to a facility for memory manipulation had terrified all of us. Any moment of weakness, one show of emotion, and we could have been flagged as unstable. Once flagged, we would have been handed over to The Program, where the doctors would steal our memories, our experiences, and our lives—all in the name of their false cure. I barely escaped that fate.
But it turns out that although The Program no longer exists, its effect is long lasting.
I stare ahead in class at the whiteboard, the words there blurring together. Around me, pencils scratch against notebook pages and the movement of other bodies mimics learning. I sit still and apart from all of them.
I’d gotten used to small classes, some with as few as twelve students. But now we’re pushing thirty in here. Former patients of The Program have been flooding in—wide eyed and confused. I mostly feel bad for them. They’ve been erased, some only partially.
Months ago, when The Program was shut down, there was no follow-up therapy offered to its patients. Many were sent uncompleted, uncured, to Sumpter High, a private school just for those who were treated: a school filled with broken people. Returners were left to their own devices, and some didn’t make it. Some didn’t want to.
But as the criminal trials carried on in the media, The Program decimated and supporting politicians questioned and shamed, Sumpter was shut down. One senator filed an injunction to ban returners from our district, citing the possibility of another suicide outbreak. As a result, students were left for weeks with nowhere to go—abandoned by their government. But that asshole politician got voted out of office, so returners have come back to the lives they had before The Program. Now that their lives have been thoroughly ruined by The Program.
Even now, former patients still occasionally freak out. Break down. Crack up. To them, The Program is forever.
I glance around at the other students in my class, some dressed in black, dark and dramatic. Others even wear Program yellow ironically. Some say their emotions are heightened now that we’re suddenly allowed to “feel” again—built-up angst and anger getting release. Lust and love intertwining so that no one knows the difference anymore. Everything is about now. Everything is about living.
But not me. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to feel—always set to numb. I wonder how many others are just mimicking what they think is sadness. What they think is joy. What if The Program took away our ability to feel by making us hide it for so long? What if none of us is real?
I shouldn’t sit here feeling sorry for myself, though. Not when there are those worse off. I look sideways at Alecia Partridge, watch as she flinches—a post-Program twitch she hasn’t lost. She occasionally murmurs to herself during class, but the rest of us pretend not to notice. Alecia talks to the ghosts of her past—a friend who died during the epidemic. A friend who was only partially erased from her memory and is, therefore, familiar enough to still be in her present.
Alecia laughs under her breath, brushing her knotted brown hair behind her ear. “Yes,” she whispers to no one. “Yes, I know.” She looks back down at her notebook and continues to work. She does this at least once a week. This is her normal—and by extension, ours.
I swallow hard and turn away, reminded that returners are still considered unstable, even if the purpose of sending them to The Program in the first place was to make them stable.
“I’d ask to copy your notes,” Nathan says in his scratchy voice from the desk behind me, “but you’re obviously going to fail this test.”
I turn my face toward him, keeping my eyes on the floor so as not to draw attention from our teacher. “Bet my F will be higher than your F,” I say.
Nathan laughs, low in his throat. “No fucking way,” he says. “I’ll take that bet.”
“Done,” I say, and look toward the front. I’m almost ready to write down a line or two from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30. I get as far as picking up my pencil before the classroom door opens.
There’s a flash of white fabric, and I immediately imagine crisp white jackets and blank expressions. I imagine silence and dripping fear. Although handlers have been out of our lives for months, I still have nightmares about them. And so I hold my breath until my eyes can adjust.
A guy steps into class wearing the same stupid clothing most of the returners do: a stiff button-down shirt, khaki pants, belt—like he’s on his way to become our new math teacher. Most returners have had their clothing replaced, and it takes a while for them to figure out their style again.
And maybe it’s because of that, or maybe I don’t recognize his newly buzzed hair, but Nathan reacts to his presence before I do.
“He’s back,” Nathan murmurs, putting his hand on my shoulder. But I feel a million miles outside of my body, and his touch is just a breeze past my soul. My pencil falls from between my fingers and drops on the floor, before rolling under my desk.
I stare at the guy in the front of the classroom, my mouth agape, my heart racing. Guilt smacks me, scolding me for not recognizing him immediately. Several students look in my direction, anticipating a reaction. They’re curious, maybe. Horrified?
“Wonderful,” the teacher says, barely hiding her annoyance. “I see they still aren’t worried about class size.” She pauses. “Welcome back, Weston,” she adds, softening her voice. “There’s one last seat.” Miss Soto motions toward an empty desk near the front.
Wes watches her for a moment like he’s trying to figure out if he knows her, but then he turns and starts down the aisle. He sits two rows away from me. After a moment of silence, Miss Soto goes back to teaching, and the other students go back to pretending to learn.
Nathan’s hand is still on my shoulder, attempting comfort, but I lean forward and out of his reach. I stare at the back of Wes’s head, willing him to see me. Begging him to turn around.
As if he can sense me, Weston puts his chin on his shoulder and covertly turns. When he finds me, when his dark eyes lock on mine, tears I didn’t know had welled up spill onto my cheeks.
And I smile.
Weston Ambrose is the love of my life, and I don’t mean “the like,” I don’t mean “the obsession.” We were together for two years, until the day men in white coats showed up at his kitchen door. Although handlers would occasionally take people from school, it was more common for them to come straight to the house. Most patients were turned in by someone they knew. Turned in by their parents.
Of course, parents didn’t know the truth of what was happening in The Program—the lasting effect it would have. The paranoia that became the curse rather than the cure to an epidemic.
Wes’s parents turned him in. The handlers arrived and pulled Wes from his home as I fought, holding on to his shirt until it tore at the collar. Until a handler physically removed me from the house.
And when Wes was gone, stolen away, his mother came and sat next to me on the curb. It was the first time I cried in public. The only time until now. Mrs. Ambrose held me tightly and let me sob into the shoulder of her blouse, and when I was done, she kissed the top of my head and told me never to come back. Fair or not, she blamed me for her son’s condition.
She called them. She called The Program on her son. I’ll never forgive her for that.
I blamed myself, too. I replayed the last few months of us over and over, trying to figure out what I could have done differently. Trying to take responsibility for his actions. Most of that time was a blur, really. But eventually, with therapy, I accepted that it wasn’t my fault.
My love for Wes is pure, forever. And so I waited for this moment. I waited for him to come back.
But Wes doesn’t return my smile, and instead he turns around and opens his notebook. He jots down what I assume are notes from the board.
My skin is on fire, waiting for him to look back. When the bell rings, Weston gets up and walks out without even a backward glimpse.
I sit still and watch after him. There is a sympathetic glance or two in my direction from other students; even Alecia nods at me like she understands how I feel. Truth is, people have wondered about my stability for a while, and I’m sure that if The Program didn’t end when it did, the handlers would have come for me next.
“Tatum?” Nathan calls, his voice always set to a quiet hush that gives every word an extra layer of depth, like he’s confiding in you.
I don’t turn immediately, and I hear his chair scrape against the linoleum floor before he crouches down next to my seat. I turn to him, feeling my bottom lip jut out.
Nathan’s eyebrows pull together as he looks me over, like I’m the most pathetic creature on all of Earth. He leans in and puts his forehead against my arm and whispers, “I’m sorry.”
Tatum Masterson never went through The Program. She never had her memory stripped, never had to fight to remain herself. But when Wes, her longtime boyfriend and the love of her life, was taken by handlers, she hoped he’d remember her somehow—that their love would be strong enough.
Like all returners, Wes came back a blank canvas. The years he and Tatum spent together were forgotten, as well as the week when he mysteriously disappeared before The Program came for him.
Regardless of his memory loss, Tatum fights to get Wes to remember her. And just as they start to build a new love, they hear about the Adjustment—a new therapy that implants memories from a donor. Despite the risks, Tatum and Wes agree to go through the process. Tatum donates her memories from their time together.
But the problem with memories is that they are all a matter of perspective. So although Wes can now remember dating Tatum, his emotions don’t match the experiences. And this discrepancy is slowly starting to unravel him, worse than anything The Program could have done.
And as the truth of their life together becomes clear, Tatum will have to decide if she loves Wes enough to let him go, or to continue to live the lie they’d build together.
1. What can you do to get help if you, or someone close to you, exhibits signs of depression? Who are safe, reliable people in your life whom you can turn to?
2. Some familiar characters seep into this installment of the Program series—Sloane, James, Realm, Quinlan, Dr. McKee, Marie, and Reed. Recall each of them, and their relation to the events and circumstances leading up to The Adjustment.
3. Tatum questions, “What if the Program took away our ability to feel by making us hide it for so long? What if none of us is real?” Later, a returner says, “‘Did you ever think they’re the ones who are crazy? . . . And the returners are the only ones who are real?’” How are feelings felt—do you consider this to be an active or passive human process? How do feelings relate to being “real”?
4. Describe the community in which Tatum lives and goes to school. How would you characterize the people, the values, and even the dominant political orientation within it? What clues point to the economic status of Tatum’s family, and the families in her community? How has Tatum’s environment shaped her as a person? How has your environment shaped you?
5. What is the importance of timing in a relationship? Are some couples naturally, automatically, compatible—regardless of the circumstances through which they meet? How much does the longevity of a relationship depend on these beginning circumstances? Would Tatum and Wes’s initial connection have been as strong if they had met at a different time in their lives? Or in a different place? Surrounded by different people?
6. What is the basis of Wes and Tatum’s love? Are Wes and Tatum, in fact, in love? How does love happen? To what extent do people have control over who and how they love? Is the way we love wired in our body’s chemistry, or is it influenced by social or environmental factors?
7. Tatum considers Wes’s return to her as, arguably, inevitable; “like his heart remembers even as his brain doesn’t.” Do you agree? How much of memory stems from the brain, and how much of memory is housed in the heart? What does it mean for memory to be related to “heart”? How and when else do the heart and mind agree—or disagree? When Wes has the negative reaction to the Adjustment, Dr. McKee rationalizes, “‘In plain terms, his heart and head don’t agree.’” What does it look and feel like when one’s heart and mind is in disagreement?
8. Tatum concludes, “memory is life in reverse.” Later, she worries that “the present is influencing my perspective on the past.” What does this mean? Discuss.
9. As Wes reacquaints himself with Tatum, he expresses curiosity in knowing who he is when he is with her. At times, he directly asks her about his preferences. Are likes and dislikes fixed, within a person—or are preferences subject to change? How might some of your personal interests be influenced by others? Think about your taste in music, movies, food, and clothing. Would you have the same interests under different life circumstances?
10. Wes often struggles with juxtaposing the different “versions” of himself—before and after The Program. To what degree does identity, or sense of self, fluctuate in life? Is it ingrained? Can it be manipulated? Can it change naturally? What might cause someone to become a different version of him- or herself in today’s world? Do you believe it’s possible for a person to embrace multiple versions of him or herself at the same time?
11. Why doesn’t Nathan particularly care for Wes? How does Tatum reconcile this? Would you be able to date someone your best friend doesn’t like?
12. When Wes warms to the idea of riding his motorcycle again, he admits that it “sounds normal.” What about it resonated as normal? On what was he likely basing normalcy? How do you define “normal”?
13. How much of Wes’s amnesia is because of The Program? Is it possible for people to lose memories, naturally? To what extent do you believe in the power of denial? How does it relate to what Dr. McKee refers to as “self-erasure”? How might denial impact Tatum’s memories?
14. Why did Wes seem to remember Tatum’s love of cherries? Why did that memory endure, and not others?
15. When Tatum and Wes go downtown to see the local band play, Tatum remarks that she feels at ease among the older crowd: “The crowd was a nice change from the people we were normally around. These people were over eighteen—the fear wasn’t the same in them.” To what fear is she referring? Thinking back, why were teens especially susceptible to the epidemic that led to The Program and ultimately the Adjustment? How come adults seemed less at risk?
16. Consider the theme of protection in The Adjustment. Who is protecting whom? Who is responsible for protecting whom? What does protection mean in a parent-child relationship? How does it play into a platonic friendship? A romantic relationship? Consider these references in the narrative:
“I think the parents in this district will only be happy when we’re all put in individual bubbles, completely protected (and isolated) from the outside world.”
“‘The Program’s dead, Pop. It’s time you let me protect myself.’”
“‘The school board is . . . They are concerned. Seems several members are worried about another outbreak. A parent brought it to their attention.’”
“Because my grandparents love me unconditionally. And that means they would never try to manipulate me.”
“‘The monitor wants safeguards. Which, of course . . . means control.’”
“I have no reason to doubt [my grandparents].”
17. On that note, explore the theme of control in The Adjustment. Who controls whom? What are the tools of control that people use in this environment? Consider Tatum’s realization—“There’s that word again: control. Seems a simple concept, but in reality, it’s harder to define. One person’s freedom may equal another person’s control.” What are the tools of control you observe in your environment? In society, at large?
18. What was your initial impression of The Adjustment’s facility, when Tatum and Wes came upon it? Did you foresee any red flags in the way she described its physical appearance and attributes? How about in the process, especially the pace of the process, through which Wes underwent the Adjustment?
19. How do the tenets of The Adjustment compare to those of The Program? How are they different? What might they have, surprisingly or not, in common?
20. In reflecting back on society’s initial acceptance of The Program, Tatum concludes, “Even if we weren’t clear on the methods, we accepted the results.” Interestingly, Jana supports The Adjustment for similar reasons. Have you ever experienced a situation in which the means justified the end, as such? Can good intentions ever outweigh the potential for negative results? Is this line of thinking ever justifiable in your world, or the world around you?
21. Part of the philosophy of The Adjustment is “No one wants a life half lived.” In today’s reality, what does it take to live your life fully? How might a life be half lived?
22. Dr. McKee suggests that some people are “just not meant to be together. No matter how much they love each other.” Do you agree?
23. Suzanne Young explores the theme of secrets throughout The Adjustment. How do secrets, or the lack thereof, influence relationships? Is it okay to keep secrets from your romantic partner? Your friends? Your family? When? What is the difference, or intersection between, secrets and privacy? What is the difference between a secret and a lie? Is it ever okay to lie to those you love? What would Tatum say to all of this? Wes? Nathan? Tatum’s grandparents? Consider these references to secrets and lies, as they relate to Tatum’s relationships and the ones she observes around her:
“I’ve seen too many people afraid to share things with their parents. It happened all the time with The Program. But I’ve never had to worry about keeping secrets. And it’s probably why I’m still here today.”
“We also decided to keep it a secret for now. I made the appointment online, but Wes didn’t tell his parents.”
“I almost text Nathan to ask what it’s about, but Foster said it was just between us. I’m not sure what that could mean, but I can’t betray his trust if it’s something he doesn’t want Nathan to know. At the same time, I can’t imagine him keeping a secret from Nathan. Yet, here I am, keeping a secret from Nathan. I’m keeping the Adjustment a secret.”
“It’s strange how quickly we fall in together, whether it’s the memories or the secret keeping, something is bonding us.”
“‘We are all liars. We’ve seen the people getting sick, saw it during the epidemic. We chose to turn a blind eye . . . All we do is pretend.’”
“I try to understand if my entire history with Wes is a lie.” “‘We all get lied to, Tatum . . . Sometimes we’re lying to ourselves. Seems there’s a healthy dose of that going around. And sometimes we lie to others.’”
24. What is Nathan’s function in the story of The Adjustment? What is his role, and what does his presence serve? Characterize the dynamic between Tatum and Nathan. Can a girl and a guy ever be, purely, just friends? Do you believe this is the case with Tatum and Nathan?
25. How do you explain the pills Tatum’s grandparents give her, to quell her headache? Were you suspicious? Are you still suspicious? What other significance might the pills have to Tatum, and to her story at large?
26. The Adjustment relies on donor memories to stimulate the return of memories in each patient. Think about each character who has, or may have, undergone The Adjustment, and identify who the probable donor was for each.
27. Tatum served as the memory donor for Wes. Why her? Who, in your life, might qualify as a “memory donor” for you, hypothetically speaking?
28. Dr. McKee compares the mind to a fuse box and to a computer that can be rebooted. What other analogies would you assign to the mind, or to the way your mind works, specifically?
29. How reliable is Tatum as a narrator? To what extent did you trust or question her perspective? Why does Suzanne Young choose to write this series in the first person? What are the benefits? Risks? What are the effects on you, as a reader?
30. Do you believe in the idea, “It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”? Does Tatum? Wes? Dr. McKee?
31. Consider the bombshell that’s dropped at the end of The Adjustment. Did you see it coming? Examine the clues that might have pointed to it, prior to the ending.
1. In a way, Wes had the opportunity to choose his style when he returned. After all, “Most returners have had their clothing replaced, and it takes a while for them to figure out their style again.” Think about your style now. Create an outfit that best represents your style now. Then create an outfit that represents how you imagine your style to have evolved five years from now . . . and then in ten. Finally, identify one piece or accessory that you think will remain representative of your identity for the rest of your life.
2. On the very first page, Tatum reflects, “It turns out that although The Program no longer exists, its effect is long lasting.” Research government programs in past and recent history: those considered effective, and those that are not remembered positively. Explore their origins and aftermath, and, ultimately, the leftover symptoms that have permeated society. Consider the New Deal or segregation.
3. When does memory begin? Poll your friends and family, recruiting people’s very first memories. Deduce a pattern for the type of memory people first hold on to, and hypothesize why and when memory starts.
4. Write the story of Wes’ weeklong disappearance, before he was taken to The Program. Where was he? Who was he with? What was he doing? Why did he leave? What were his plans?
5. In The Adjustment, Wes brings Tatum to a seemingly significant wooded neighborhood. When she arrives, she comments, “It smells like pine trees and earth, like camping and freedom.” Many times, we assign senses to memories—sights, sounds, tastes, and as Tatum demonstrates, smells. Create a scent that reflects how you’d like to memorialize your life, as you are now. What ingredients would be included?
6. Create a soundtrack that follows the plot of this story. Consider including Radiohead for Tatum!
Guide written in 2017 by Catharine Sotzing Prodromou, Assistant Director and Reading Specialist at the Alta Vista School, San Francisco, CA.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Suzanne Young is the New York Times bestselling author of The Program series. Originally from Utica, New York, Suzanne moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She is a novelist and an English teacher, but not always in that order. Suzanne is also the author of Girls with Sharp Sticks, All in Pieces, Hotel for the Lost, and several others novels for teens. Visit her online at AuthorSuzanneYoung.com or follow her on Instagram at @AuthorSuzanneYoung.