Challenger Deep – Neal Shusterman
Fiction – YA
Published April 21, 2015 by HarperCollins
After months of this being on my TBR list I finally got around to reading this book and I’m so happy I did. It very much reminded of It’s Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini…in the good ways. It’s an honest portrayal of a character’s experience with mental illness. Even with the same diagnosis no two cases are the same and I think that is something both books showcase beautifully.
If you’re just picking this up the story can be difficult at first to grasp. The chapters alternate between Caden’s life with his family and friends and his alternate life on the pirate ship where he is considering mutiny against the Captain. The whole decline of Caden’s mental health is heartbreaking, but Shusterman manages to make it all run smoothly and easily understood.
I have so many good things to say about this book. I think a lot of books about teens with mental illness tend to glamorize the disease. Neal Shusterman does such a fantastic job of portraying the descent into mental illness as well as the slow climb back. Through Caden, Shusterman shows the doubts and episodes that come with schizoaffective disorder. I think the pirate ship storyline, as confusing as it was at first, is a great tool to use to showcase that struggle. It helped to understand Caden’s thought process and how it was affecting his actual life and relationships.
I also loves the relationship he had with his family. Caden had a normal middle-class family that now had to deal with this huge change in their daily routine. I liked being able to understand from Caden’s point of view his anger, and eventual understanding, that his disease and time away affected his family in ways he didn’t even know at the time. Shusterman is able to tell this story from experience; his own son struggled with mental illness and Caden’s illustrations in the book are Brendan’s from those times. Books like Challenger Deep are extremely important to the fight of recognizing mental illness as a very real disease.
“Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”
“They all think medicine should be magic, and they become mad at me when it’s not.”
Maybe. It was definitely a phenomenal book that I’m so happy I finally read, but I don’t think it’s one I could just pick up again to read for funsies. However, I think every accolade this book received is wholly deserved and this should be must-read for everyone, YA reader or not.