Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date: April 21, 2015

Genre and topics: Young Adult contemporary, mental health

challenger deepCaden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today’s most admired writers for teens.

I was with my brother at the library, helping him find the rest of Neal Shusterman’s Skinjacker trilogy (he really enoyed them), when I spotted Challenger Deep and was immediately like “Oh yeah, I really want to read that!” So here we are.

If you’ve read some of my previous book reviews, you’ll be noticing a pattern: I tend to pick up middle grade and YA novels about mental health topics. It comes from looking for ways to articulate my own personal problems, as well as functioning as research for the novel I’m currently writing which deals with some of those themes. Challenger Deep also comes from a sincere personal place in Neal Shusterman, whose son Brendan has struggled with schizophrenia since his teenager years. Working closely with Brenadan, who supplied the drawings seen throughout, he tried to capture the experience of a schizophrenic boy’s “descent” to the depths of his illness and his recovery.

That personal connection is significant. Shusterman has certainly done his research, which is extremely important when writing outside your perspective, and he had many emotions driving him to write. The result was a rather literary book that even exceeded my initial expectations.

I say Challenger Deep is “rather literary” because there are various devices at play to illustrate Caden’s experience. Most notably is a paralell story aboard a pirate ship that Caden often feels he is on. The two realities seem separate at first, but it then becomes apparent that characters overlap, and the story on the ship points Caden to important revelations about himself and the people around him. This seemed more like a literary technique than a real experience of schizophrenia to me,  but I honestly don’t mind because it was satisfyingly crafted (once I understood the connection, I admit) and made some very important points. There were plenty of powerful moments about society’s perceptions of mental illness.

Meanwhile, Caden will shift from first person to second person sometimes, conveying in an unsettling way his disassociation. When he is in first person, the voice and word choice has its funny and clever moments–he’s a regular teenage boy, after all.

My overall impression of Challenger Deep is that it’s not a description, but an experience, and one that I found rather engrossing.

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