Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman | The descend into the Challenger Deep!

Such a powerful novel about mental illness, «Challenger Deep» explores what’s it’s like to go through the period of life when your brain tricks you into believing that your delusions and hallucinations are actually real. Written in a way that allows you to understand Caden’s struggles on a deeper level, the story was rich with fantasy elements, that helped to bring the emotions forward.

I’m currently reading «The Toll», the third book in the Arc of Scythe trilogy by the same author, and I have to say that I prefer his writing in «Challenger Deep». It reads and flows much better for me. That is not to say that there is a big difference between the two, but somehow the writing style in his dystopian series doesn’t pull me in the same way.

goodreads blurb:

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 behaviour.

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.

Thank you Netgalley and Walker Books for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way.

From reading the blurb you’d never know how dark this book actually is. This is essentially a descent into the mind of someone with a very severe mental illness. Written in such an honest way that I couldn’t help but feel aghast by everything that was happening in Caden’s mind. 

1 – The book is split into two different realities – the real one (or as real as Caden’s perspective is) and his delusions/dreams or hallucinations (I haven’t figured out what exactly it was) where Caden would appear on a ship taking a course to the Challenger Deep. We are thrown into this dual perspective from the very beginning, not really knowing what is happening, what is real or not, and what can we trust. Only after 40%, I started to see connections between the ship parts and real life. 

Every single person on the “ship” corresponds to the people in the hospital. We meet them all pretty early in the story, all except the Captain. 

This intentional confusion of the readers makes this novel even more powerful. It allows us to see into the mind of someone who goes through a very complicated period of time, of someone whose mind plays tricks and shows things in a different light. 

As I was reading this book, I kept wondering if any of this was actually written from a real study or someone else’s experience. It turns out that Neal Shusterman’s son showed signs of mental illness when he was a teen, and that’s where the story came from. I found his interview with “The Horn Book” very interesting. I’ll leave the link here if you’d like to check it out. 

2 – Once you realize that this book is not just a story created by an author, but has such an intimate and deep connection to him, it reads very differently. It becomes even more powerful! I’ve never read anything even similar to this book, and highly recommend it to everyone. Even though YA books made a great leap in the past couple of years and started to include more representation of various mental illnesses, I think this one is the most impressive of all the books I’ve read so far with this theme.

3 – Following Caden so closely for over 300 pages, it’s only natural that I got attached to him and wanted things to improve. Caden was the character I really grew to care about. I loved the commentary on trying to fit each person into a bracket of mental illness, even though every single case is so different from all the previous ones, and throwing those words around can be very harmful in its own way. Eventually, we do find out what Caden’s diagnosis is, but it’s never made the main point of the story. It’s all about Caden. His struggle, his strength, and his journey. 

My rating:

This was such a difficult book to rate, especially after I found out that this was written from Neal Shusterman’s own experience when his son was diagnosed in his teens, and their whole family went through something very similar. In fact, the drawings that are in the book, are all real sketches drawn by his son “in the depths”. 

It’s impossible to give this book any less than 5 stars and I’m fascinated by his and his son’s strength to share this experience with others and let them know that “they are not alone”. 

If you get a chance, please read this book!  

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15 thoughts on “Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman | The descend into the Challenger Deep!

  1. Fabulous review, Alex! I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve had this book on my TBR for years now but I already had a feeling that it would be an incredibly deep and heavy read (emotionally and mentally) that I don’t think I’ve been ready for it. Your review has convinced me that I might just need to take the plunge and pick it up though!

    Liked by 1 person

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