Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Source: eARC provided by Edelweiss and Hardcover
Goodreads link: (click here)
What's it about?
Half of Caden Bosch's life is spent in the real world, the other half is spent navigating the murky seas on the way to the deepest point on the Earth, Challenger Deep, which lies in the Marianas Trench. Only he knows of this journey, though. The closer he gets to Challenger Deep, the more Caden is losing his grip on the real world. He's becoming paranoid about the people around him, he's pretending to join the school track team and his normally concrete drawings are becoming more abstract. His parents and friends are noticing his increasingly odd behavior and are becoming extremely worried about him. Eventually, Caden's descent is too much for his parents to handle and he ends up taken to a facility where he is diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder. Here, he will take on a mission that will either end at sea, with Caden drowning in the briny deep, or with Caden's recovery and eventual return to the real world. One thing is certain, he'll need to navigate both worlds to complete his journey.
That's probably the shortest review synopsis I've ever written. That's not because the book isn't good or doesn't have enough content, it's the excact opposite. I can't really say too much about the book itself because it's a journey that you, the reader, have to take with Caden. It's about a boy falling into the depths of mental illness, but it's not telling you about it, it's showing you and taking you along for the ride. Yes, there is a "plot", but that's not at all the focus of this story. Neal Shusterman does an incredible job giving you a chance to walk in the shoes of someone with mental illness. I, personally, had no clue what it was like because I've only ever seen it from the outside (and I've really never been witness to anything quite so severe). Taking this journey with Caden Bosch was heartbereaking, enlightening and confusingly realistic. At first, I was thinking "this book is weird", but as I read, it made more sense. It's broken into 161 very short chapters, so I thought I would just blow through the book. Actually, it took me longer than I expected to read it. I was absorbing it, thinking and experiencing it as I turned the pages. It was a bit difficult to read at times because it was hard to "watch" Caden fall so deeply and to have such trouble being able to tell the difference between reality and delusion. The story alternates between the real world where Caden is dealing with his family and trying to understand his mental illness the and the world in which Caden is living on a ship on a trippy sea voyage. At sea, there is "the Captain" who gives him orders, "the parrot" who wants to kill "the Captain" and Calliope, the ship's figurehead who just wants to be free. There are crewmen who often jump to their deaths from the crow's nest, renegade brains galavanting about the decks and there are deadly sea monsters waiting to devour them all. In the real world, there is Caden's life and future. Caden has to decide which world he truly belongs to.
Challenger Deep is very different from what Neal Shusterman usually writes, but I believe it is his most important work. It's obvious that this book means a lot to him. Besides the fact that the writing is nothing less than outstanding, it's clear that this subject (mental health) is dear to him. At the end of the book there is an Author's Note, where he talks about his own son's struggle with mental illness. His son helped him with this book, and Caden's drawings, which are interspersed throughout he book, are actually his son's drawings from when he was going through his own journey to the real world.
My Goodreads rating for Challenger Deep was 5/5 stars. It was difficult to read, but it's supposed to be. And it was well worth it.