Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
HarperCollins

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Caden Bosch is caught between two worlds. In one, he is an ordinary teen who works on illustrations for a video game he and his friends develop. In the other, he is a passenger on a pirate ship en route to Challenger Deep, the lowest point of the Marianas Trench.

As his hold on reality slips, his friends and family begin to notice that something is wrong, but they are powerless to help him. Sometimes even Caden knows the impossibility of things he believes. But in the next moment, he may be powerless to doubt them.

Shusterman doesn’t disappoint in this complex, heartbreaking story of a boy with mental health issues. The scenes in which Caden interacts with the crew of the pirate ship morph into something entirely different, allowing readers to become engrossed in Caden’s departure from reality while still following a somewhat linear story. It’s brilliantly done.

As a reader, I kept so hoping there would be this magical moment in which Caden’s meds suddenly took effect and he suddenly emerged from the fog happy and whole. I can only imagine that the friends and family of anyone suffering from schizophrenia feel that pull, which just added to the story’s brilliance.

While there’ no quick-fix for Caden in this story, what Shusterman does provide is a profound sense of hope. Many things remain unknown. We end the story with the feeling that we are still very much at the beginning of Caden’s journey. We don’t know how things will go, but we are not without hope.

One criticism I hear about books dealing with mental health issues is that often the therapist is too goofy or has all the answers or just feels absolutely unreal. I think this book struck a good balance between making the therapist a presence in the story without his character overtaking or distracting. Caden’s therapist had his oddities, but they were a bit understated and didn’t seem weird for the sake of weird, if that makes sense. Over all I thought it was a great book, definitely a good read for anyone with friends or family members facing mental illness.

Language Content
No profanity.

Sexual Content
Caden befriends a girl who crawls into his bed one night. They remain fully clothed. Caden’s medication reduces or eliminates sex drive, so it’s a pretty innocent situation.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violence
A man on the street grabs Robie, but she escapes. A violent storm causes her plane to crash. She and an injured man survive on a life raft. The crash doesn’t have a whole lot of scary details. It’s straightforward but pretty brief.

Drug Content
References to a drunk driving accident that killed a teenage girl.

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About Kasey Giard

Kasey is a mother, reader and aspiring author. When she's not reading or writing, you might find her out on the water fly fishing, pretending she can keep houseplants alive, or talking with the family rescue cat.

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