Challenger Deep by Neil Schusterman

Challenger Deep
Neil Shusterman

Harper Teen

Challenger Deep plunges boldly into the depths of mental illness without the protection of a diving bell, giving the reader a visceral sense of how the mind tries to cope from the intimate perspective of the sufferer.

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“. . .sheds light into the dark places of a tortured soul . . ..”

Caden Bosch is a crewmember of a nameless pirate ship adrift at sea looking for treasure in the ocean’s deepest trench. Caden is also a teenager who likes to draw and create video games. The one-eyed pirate captain and his one-eyed talking parrot lead Caden and the others on board, telling them to beware of the “feral brains” and the toxic black ooze seeping from between the planks as they climb up to the crow’s nest to consume neon-colored cocktails. Caden’s friends and family observe his increasingly compulsive behaviors and growing sense of paranoia, but they feel helpless and can’t understand him. Caden is torn between the two realities and seeks his destiny in both. Which one of Caden’s worlds will ultimately claim him?

Caden is a very likeable and knowledgeable fifteen-year-old character, although some of his insights and memories seem to belong to an older person—possibly a college-educated young adult. (Not many teens I’ve met know anything about the MGM Grand Hotel fire, for instance.) If the reader can forgive these kinds of lapses, there is a lot to be learned from the story.

Possibly the novel isn’t aimed so much at general teenage audiences as it is directed toward the parents, siblings, teachers, and friends of young adults who have experienced similar psychotic episodes and who want to learn what it’s like to deal daily with such a challenging diagnosis. Challenger Deep sheds light into the dark places of a tortured soul, offering hope that healing is indeed possible.

Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews