Rummanah Aasi
 Neal Shusterman's Challenger Deep has been on my reading list since it was published. It moved up higher on my priority reads when it won the National Book Award last year. The book does a wonderful job in depicting mental illness in its bare bones without the frills, romanticism, and stigma.

Description: 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.


Review: Challenger Deep is a harrowing, haunting, disturbing, but most importantly an enlightening story of Caden Bosch's slow decent into mental illness. Caden is an ordinary teen. He is artistic and comes from a loving home. His routine of school, family, and friends slowly unravels as he becomes paranoid and thinks there is somebody at his high school who wants to kill him. Soon Caden finds himself on a ship with a large crew consisting of a one-eyed captain and a parrot among many others going on a voyage in the deep blue ocean. Caden is disorientated and unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. He feels at once all-powerful in one minute and frighteningly powerless the next. We watch in horror as Caden exhibits erratic behavior and slowly drifts away from friends and family and deeper into his mind, until his parents admit him to a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. 
  Challenger Deep is not an easy read. There is no transition between the dual narratives, which is jarring and off putting at first, but it does expertly allow the reader to feel Caden's own confusion. What I loved about Challenger Deep is that the reader is never distant from Caden. We are with him every step of the way from the start of his illness to his on-going treatment. The hallucinations at first seem completely separate from the story, but they slowly begin to mirror the real-world as all of these characters on Caden's ship eventually match real-world people in the hospital and beyond. I would have much preferred that the connection be made early on the book, but I can understand why the author chose to do this stylistically.
  While I don't have first hand experience with mental illness, thanks to this book I can empathize with those who have. I can not recall any book that has accurately portrayed mental illness without society's preconceived notions or with a magic wand that makes it disappear at the end of the story. Caden is not a specific type prone to mental illness nor does any of the other teens who are seeking treatment like him, which makes his journey all the more scary. Shusterman also makes an important note indicating that mental illness does not have a cure, but it is an on going battle for many in a very personal end-note of the book in which he discusses the book's inspiration from his own son's struggles and losing a very close friend with mental illness. Challenger Deep is a powerful read that will captivate readers and generate discussion. I would highly recommend it.


Curriculum Connection: Psychology/Health


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing scenes. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Inside Out by Terry Trueman, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork, Calvin by Martine Leavitt,
7 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This sounds like a really heavy read Rummanah, and I'm not sure I'm in the right mood for it at the moment, but I love that it's out there and portrays mental illness in an extremely realistic way without sugar coating it for fiction. Gorgeous review!


  2. I keep reading about this one and I must try it. I know that it isnt' an easy topic, but I want to know more.


  3. I'm glad you liked this. It's hard to read tough reads, but I've been wanting to tackle this one since so many good things have been said about it.


  4. Kindlemom Says:

    This sounds really interesting. I love how you described it and warned of the narrative and the abrupt changes. I'm not sure if this would be for me or not, but I am curious enough that I think I will add it to my wishlist.


  5. Candace Says:

    Wow, this sounds like a very important read. One that many could benefit from reading. I don't think everyone 'gets it' so books like this really help open eyes. I'll definitely watch for it to come in. I'd read it for sure.


  6. Oh wow! This sounds different and something that really has me curious. I do want to read it, but I also think I have to be in a mood for something this heavy. Brilly review.


  7. Anne Bennett Says:

    This is the best review I have read of this book. I liked it even better after reading it than I did after I read the actual book. Thank you.


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