Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Genre: Contemporary
Release Date: 21st April, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: four-stars

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 one of the saddest books I’ve ever read; I was completely unprepared for how starkly devastating it would turn out to be when I started reading it. Like, I literally thought that it was about the deep sea and stuff? But no, instead it’s metaphors about terrible things that hurt deeply.

Caden, the main character, broke my heart. It’s worth pointing out that Neal Shusterman was inspired by his own son’s struggle with mental illness; there are pictures throughout the book that Caden draws to show how he’s feeling that were originally drawn by Shusterman’s son, and man, they completely crushed me. Caden begins the book as an average teenage boy – he’s smart, has friends, and is close to his family. The changes in his personality are gradual, something I really loved about this book because it’s so honest in its depiction of mental illness. Caden doesn’t wake up one day with a host of different problems; they manifest over time. His personality slowly transforms him into someone his parents and friends don’t recognize – he becomes paranoid and anxious, exhibiting signs of OCD behaviour that ranges from the harmless to the devastatingly brutal. As an example, Caden, over time, becomes convinced that going for long walks that last for hours is the only thing preventing terrible things happening to the world; he walks for hours without stopping, to the point where his feet bleed, blister and bruise from the sheer pressure. It’s an extreme form of self-harm that Caden doesn’t acknowledge at all, and because you read the book from his POV it’s easy at first to ignore the very serious implications in the things he’s saying and doing.

He also experiences vivid dreams/hallucinations that place him on a ship, with a crew meant to represent the different people in his life. The ship Caden dreams about throughout the novel is headed toward the Marianas Trench; it is Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the Earth, located in the Marianas Trench that Caden and the crew are heading for. This surreal part of the story is very important because it illustrates Caden’s mindset but also because it represents a mental struggle that he, and many other people with severe depression, are all too familiar with. The final scene on the ship absolutely broke me; I had to put down the Kindle just to cry.

Challenger Deep is also very much a story about the help that people like Caden can find. This is not a story that is interested in demonizing doctors and nurses and the help they can offer people like Caden – something I’m deeply grateful for because it honestly really angers me when books and media do this. Caden is admitted into a hospital where he can get the therapy he needs. It is really important to me, and for many people I think, that his therapy, the patients he meets and the doctors and nurses who help him are all displayed positively because again, I really do hate the stereotype of mental hospitals being like prisons filled with awful people. It’s gross and unnecessary and impedes on the ability of those who are able to help to be able to reach the people who need it.

I also want to talk about some of the characters we meet. One of Caden’s therapists, who is enormously influential and one of the most positive presences in this novel, has suffered with mental illness and is an example of recovery. He is there to help but also exists to prove that mental illness can be overcome and life can go on, something that Caden needs to know. I also loved two of the patients, although all of them were fully formed characters. Caden befriends ‘the girl by the window’, a girl who stands everyday by a window – her slow recovery to walking away from it made me cry. The last character, Caden’s roommate…he broke my heart. I’ve mentioned before that Challenger Deep is an extraordinary novel in its honesty; Caden’s roommate is a heartbreaking example.

You guys, this book is beautiful between words. I cannot recommend it enough, especially for anyone who understands what Caden goes through. Also, definitely read the Acknowledgements because Shusterman talks about his son and his motivation for writing this novel.

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