Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger DeepWow. I’m still a little bit floored by this book. I received a digital ARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Here’s the synopsis from Edelweiss:

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.

Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today’s most admired writers for teens

1. This book is hard to read. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s heartbreaking.

This book is all about a 15 year old boy navigating the waters of his mental illness. While his diagnosis is always fluctuating, Caden always knows that something is wrong. This book has over 100 small chapters – about a page and a half on average. The layout of this book alone takes you through Caden’s journey with him. The chapters start out alternating between Caden’s real life: school, friends, homework and his life on the mysterious ship with the captain, navigating the way to Marianas Trench and Challenger Deep – the deepest point on the earth. While at first, the chapters on the ship are confusing, it becomes clear the farther along in the book that the ship and the characters on it are manifestations of Caden’s illness. Don’t worry, you’ll get it.

2. “Dead kids get put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”

As a future teacher, I feel like this book (and the quote above) is extremely important. Kids with mental illnesses DO get pushed under the rug. It is dismissed as ADD or anxiety disorder or teenaged depression. A lot of times, that is not the case. In the book, Caden is lucky that he has parents who notice the emotional changes happening to him. He pretends to join the track team just so he has an excuse to walk for hours. He is under the impression that if he stops walking, something bad will happen. He is worried about someone murdering his family, hurting his friends at school, or a deadly earthquake happening in China if he stops walking. His mind makes these things so real to him that he has no choice – he must obey. As a firm believer in bibliotherapy, I will definitely be stocking this book in my classroom. It is one of the most important books on mental illness I have ever read.

3. Let’s revisit the chapters, shall we?

Okay, so as I mentioned, the chapters are insanely short. This is one of those books where the chapter titles matter, too. I think at one point, on Goodreads, I wrote that the layout of this book was making me feel like I was going crazy. You feel like you’ve been through so much with Caden, then you look down, and you’ve only read 30% of the book. It’s so well done in making me feel like I’m living Caden’s life with him. Between the hospital, the scenes on the ship, and Caden’s mind, readers never actually know which is real and which is the delusion.

4. The acknowledgement is one of my favorite parts of the book.

So, this review seems short, because it is. There is a lot that happens to Caden and the acknowledgements give you a little insight to what Shusterman has gone through with mental illness personally. In the beginning, you see that all illustrations are done by Brendan Shusterman – Neal’s son. Only after seeing a few of the drawings did I piece together that this story is rooted in truth. I’m leaving it there. That’s all.

OVERALL: 5 STARS!! This book was so poignant and real and heartbreaking and full of hope all at the same time. Going through Caden’s journey gives you the feeling that you know exactly how he feels, even if you have never had any experience with mental illness. You have to feel for the kid. He’s doing the best he can. I definitely plan on using this as a book in bibliotherapy in the future. This was my first time reading Neal Shusterman, and I can say that I’m now a fan and I need to work through the rest of his books. He’s fantastic. This book comes out on April 21, 2015, so if you want to be as blown away as I was, you’ll need to pre-order. Click the link!

Click to Pre-Order!

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