Friday, January 2, 2015

The National Average: Welcome to the Program by John Bryant

Received: Free physical copy from author in exchange for an honest review
This review was written by: B and C
Publication Date: September 2014
Pages: 258
Stars: 4/5

"I haven't started taking it (the test) yet. Aren't you scared?" asked Simone.
"No.  I figured I might as well go ahead and take it.  What's the point in being afraid when they control everything?  I dunno, it's weird.  They govern everything about this place, but just having some semblance of control of own fear.  It's kinda calming."-Marcus
-The National Average: Welcome to the Program

The Program has become a norm in the United States, and with it those who do not follow society's normalcy or written and unwritten rules are reported.  In a specified facility, in an undisclosed location, these called out individuals undergo a test to determine if they are going to manifest violent behavior in the future.  Are they going to be a psychopath or not?  No one really tries to question the system or realize what's going on.  It's simply been a part of their lives and history for so many years that it's as common as breathing.  See someone acting weird, just call a number and they will be taken care of, no problem.  Marcus and Simone, twin brother and sister, are reported by their own uncaring mother to the Program.

Marcus has a desire to feel what it's like to hurt someone.  His violence just takes him over, and he can't turn it off.  Simone is more indifferent to pain and violence.  She witnesses it without feeling much of anything.  However, she is willing to take strong action for the sake of her friends, even if it's crossing the line a little too far.  Of course, she has the ability to switch off the attitude and desire for brutality unlike her close sibling.  What happens if they are separated in the Program?  Will they have different outcomes?  The end result of the test only has two options: be put into the Culling Program or go to the military.  Neither option is good, and no one has ever escaped the Program before.  Once people are taken, they're never seen again.  Will the two be parted forever, or will they follow the same path?  Hopefully they will not have to go to the Culling Program, the worst fate for anyone...

Flashback to 1948, Noel Everett is beginning to create the program.  While he is married, his wife is supportive of him chasing his dreams, even if they include leaving her for an extended period of time.  The Program is supposed to be a revolutionary realization for him, but can he really choose between his career and his wife, and what happens when people try to twist his idea into something warped?  What happened to Marcus and Simone?  What is their fate?  Read The National Average: Welcome to the Program to find out!

"We've already been down some questionable roads, Noel.  You can't pick and choose your morality."
-Dr. Givens

Let us start off saying that the whole idea behind this book was brilliant!  The fascination surrounding this story when we heard of it was huge, and we were not let down when we read the book.  It's not only intriguing, but it is also alluring, compelling, and gripping.  We fell in love with the premise!  The execution to it was well done to top it all off.  Also, there were many characters to learn about and find interest in, but we'll get into that later!

The best part to The National Average: Welcome to the Program was how we got to see two sides to the separate interlocking stories.  I (B) love duel perspectives, point of views, and/or timelines, and was pleasantly surprised by some of these included in Bryant's impressive first work.  If we had to choose which part of the story we liked best, we'd both have to choose Noel Everett's path.  To see how everything started was thought provoking.  The struggle between what's right and wrong was evident and real within the pages.  Plus, we enjoyed how Noel and his wife interacted.  It was almost unbelievable how they could be separated from each other for so long and yet keep up a relationship.  His wife was so dedicated to him through thick and thin for so many years.  We really admired that.  While it was inevitable how it was going to turn out between them, by the way that Bryant wrote Noel's  path and history so fluently, it did not make it any easier on our hearts.  It was distressing and tragic nonetheless.

We were also delighted to see how the story continued on for quite some time after the two finished their test.  The lies and mystery were portrayed in a fluent fashion.  We had question after question from secrecy upon secrecy, that built up to mind exploding suspense, and when we reached the conclusion, we still wanted more!  One of our top characters, if not our favorite one, though, has yet to be mentioned, Vargas.  We don't want to give out too many details on him because he comes later in the story, and spoilers are obviously the worst, but his character was just so amusing and enjoyable to read about.  He had this quality about him of always showing up when people needed him the most, a most unique and distinctive trait to him which ultimately helped him out towards the end.  Those moments when he offered some comic relief were great, and everything about him was!

All of these characters in the Program had such dark or almost gasp moments to them once we find out why they were forced to participate in it.  These were also some of the best moments in the book.  John Bryant created a stirring and refreshing read that made us ponder morals long after we flipped past the last page.  It's a great debut from him, and we can't wait to see what he comes up with next!  

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