Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – Review

April 21, 2015 Reviews 21 ★★★★½

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – ReviewChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperCollins on 4/21/15
Genres: Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: Edelweiss
My content rating: YA (Mental illness)
My rating:
4.5 Stars

Caden 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.

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My Take

Challenger Deep is the type of book that you won’t forget long after you’ve finished reading it. This book sheds light on mental illness in a way I have never seen done before (at least not so thoroughly and realistically) – putting you directly into the mind of the mentally ill character and taking you on an enlightening, but also somewhat perplexing journey through his illness.

Normally, I start my reviews with what I loved, but I’m switching things up a little because I feel like I have to get the negative out of the way first, before I can get to what I really loved. So, stick with me here!

The negatives:

  • Prepare to be confounded. I had a hard time rating this book, to be honest. I kept hovering between four and four-and-a-half stars, even though I think it’s brilliant in a lot of ways. Why? This book was very strange. In fact, it bordered on psychedelic in some places. Reading from Caden’s perspective when he is having a psychotic episode is … well … psychotic. It kind of reminded me of listening to my dad’s old drug-induced Pink Floyd albums (or maybe the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus”). It was weird. And, honestly, I found myself wondering, if this had been any other author besides Neal Shusterman (who I have undying faith in), if I would have stuck it out at all because I just didn’t get the twisted maritime world that Caden lived in – or the strange people around him – or just about anything that was happening. Did I kind of enjoy reading about this weird alternate reality? Yes, but I didn’t understand it at all. At first. Until I got to about the mid-point of the book … which is when …

What I LOVED:

  • It all came together. See, I shouldn’t have doubted, because Shusterman is truly brilliant, and every nuance of Caden’s psychedelic alter-reality had a deeper meaning, had a connection to his real life (which we would see, alternating with chapters that took place in Caden’s schizophrenia-induced life). Each strange character, all of the crazy things that they did and said, they all started to make sense once you hit that fifty percent mark in the book. And that’s when I went from feeling like this book might just be a little too strange for me to realizing that all of the puzzle pieces were coming together. That’s when the journey got really good.
  • An honest portrayal of serious mental illness. As I mentioned in my discussion post Based on a True Story, this book had its basis in Shusterman’s real-life experiences. His own son went through much of the same darkness that Caden went through in this book, and the realism of that shined through. (The illustrations are pictures that his son actually drew while he was suffering from his own mental illness.) It was obvious that Shusterman had created this broken and damaged character with a true sense of love and understanding of what a serious mental illness can do to a person. The book is strange, but that’s because Shusterman so accurately portrays the POV of a character who’s had a break from reality. Reading this book will help you understand that perspective more too. You can’t help but put this book down with a deeper understanding of what someone with this type of mental illness truly feels and sees when they are in its grip. For that reason alone, I feel like this book is an astounding and important read!

Challenger Deep can be a difficult, twisted and sometimes disturbing read, but it’s also brilliant – full of depth and emotion. This is the type of book that explores the depths of the human psyche and shows us the resilience of the human spirit, demonstrating that, though mental illness can be devastating, hope is never lost. I give Challenger Deep 4.5/5 stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

About the Author

neal-shusterman

Award-winning author Neal Shusterman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he began writing at an early age. After spending his junior and senior years of high school at the American School of Mexico City, Neal went on to UC Irvine, where he made his mark on the UCI swim team, and wrote a successful humor column. Within a year of graduating, he had his first book deal, and was hired to write a movie script.

In the years since, Neal has made his mark as a successful novelist, screenwriter, and television writer. As a full-time writer, he claims to be his own hardest task-master, always at work creating new stories to tell. His books have received many awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, as well as garnering a myriad of state and local awards across the country. Neal’s talents range from film directing (two short films he directed won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards) to writing music and stage plays – including book and lyrical contributions to “American Twistory,” which is currently played in several major cities. He has even tried his hand at creating Games, having developed three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens, as well as seven “How to Host a Murder” games.

As a screen and TV writer, Neal has written for the “Goosebumps” and “Animorphs” TV series, and wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie “Pixel Perfect”. Currently Neal is developing an original TV series with his son, Jarrod, and adapting Tesla’s Attic with co-writer Eric Elfman for TV as well.

Wherever Neal goes, he quickly earns a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. Much of his fiction is traceable back to stories he tells to large audiences of children and teenagers — such as his novel The Eyes of Kid Midas. As a speaker, Neal is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give Neal a unique approach to writing. Neal’s novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor.

 Author Links:

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21 Responses to “Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – Review”

  1. Cait @ Paper Fury

    Oh. Oh. I WANT. I love books on tricky topics and I love it even more when they’re handled beautifully…besides I have undying love for Neal Shusterman .xD Although **confession** I’ve only read Unwind and Brusier so far. I WANT TO READ MORE THOUGH. But I needed to reread Unwind before going on and I just haven’t had a chance yet. xD Sooooon. This one is already on my wish-list.
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    • Nicole

      I know what you mean about the reread thing. I still haven’t read the last book in the Unwind series because I feel like I need to do a reread of at least the third book (it’s not on Recaptains! Guess I’ll have to write that one for them!). I NEVER reread, so this is hard for me, but I SO love this series that I know it will be worth it to reread them all. I think I’ll read them along with my son.

      Challenger Deep is amazing – just remind yourself as you’re reading that Shusterman is going somewhere with the strangeness. (Though, if I remember right, you kind of like strangeness in your books, right?). 🙂

  2. Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    I agree, it was so confusing! And I thought the same as you at first, that I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, because I was so lost for so long. But really, in the end for me, that was how I was supposed to feel, if that makes sense? Anyway, I am really glad that you felt the impact of this one too! Great review 🙂

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted: Head Versus Heart: How do you Rate?
    • Nicole

      I agree – you were supposed to feel that way! The first part was supposed to be strange and kind of throw you off. I do admit that I was worried for a little while, though!

    • Nicole

      I love it when a book isn’t really on my radar until I read a review – and then I just need to read it! Hope you pick this one up! It definitely has some strange moments, but it’s also beautiful and haunting!

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