Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Amazon.com: Challenger Deep eBook : Shusterman, Neal, Shusterman, Brendan:  Kindle Store

Title: Challenger Deep

Author: Neal Shusterman

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 320

Rating: A-

Recommended?: Yes


Challenger Deep is an immersive journey into the mind of a teenage boy experiencing a psychotic break. It’s one of the best young adult books I’ve read in a long time and I could relate to the main character’s breakdown and hospitalization (even though my mental illness isn’t nearly as severe as his.) Caden Bosch is a well-liked guy and a straight-A student who’s day-to-day behavior is slowly becoming… odd.

He has a lot of conversations with himself and walks around aimlessly until his feet break out in sores. Caden’s parents don’t know that he has schizophrenia, but they become increasingly aware that something is terribly wrong with their son. When he’s placed in a long-term mental facility, Caden forms a delusion that he’s on a ship searching for treasure and accompanied by a group of different characters (like like in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the characters in his hallucinations are based on real people in the hospital.)

The hallucination scenes might be confusing for some but I’d recommend that readers stick with it because it all comes together at the end. This book is a strong portrayal of how serious mental illness can happen to ANYBODY. Caden’s parents are loving and supportive, he comes from a financially stable environment, and he has several good friends. I understood the terrible feeling of him knowing what his illness was doing to his parents and his sister and not being able to do anything about it. I don’t know much about what having schizophrenia is like but I’ve had a psychotic break and Caden’s feelings of disassociation and confusion felt VERY realistic.

The symbolism in the fantasy world mirrored by Caden’s real-life experiences start to feel a little on-the-nose towards the end and I don’t know how many people actually experience schizophrenia this way (from what I’ve heard, it’s usually more auditory and less visual) but I thought that overall Neal Shusterman did a great job of writing from the POV of somebody who has hallucinations and delusions. One thing that did bother me slightly was the portrayal of one of the patients in the hospital, Alexa.

Alexa was raped repeatedly by her step-brother and tried to slit her own throat and the way Caden treats her is extremely judgy. He treats her fixation on talking about her own abuse in group as ‘looking for attention’ and I was like dude, this girl has been through a living hell. That was actually the thing that clipped off the 5th star for me on Goodreads. I’ve never read any of Neal Shusterman’s other books but his style of writing was very distinctive and engaging and I liked the surreal illustrations done by his son, further pulling the reader into Caden’s fractured world.

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