“Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”
- Title: Challenger Deep
- Author: Neal Shusterman
- Genre: YA Contemporary
- Pages: 320 pages
- Publication date: April 21, 2015
Neal has been one of my all-time favorite authors for years now—about a decade—but I’ve been behind on reading some of his work. I heard him speak about Challenger Deep during an online panel about mental health last year. The book had been on my list for a while, but hearing him speak about it wanted me to get it faster. Luckily, I was able to.
Challenger Deep feels like two stories in one at first. It starts with Caden Bosch as a high school student but also Caden Bosch as a crewperson on a ship. The line between them blurs after a while as the readers journey between Caden’s reality and his delusions.
Now, mental health books are usually 50/50 since some authors romanticize it. But I trusted Neal going into this book, and I’m glad I did.
Neal tackles the whole concept of mental health very well in this novel. He shows all the different sides that come with it: supporting parents, non-supporting parents, people whispering mental health terms like that makes them go away, how some days are better than others, the ups and downs of changing medication, etc. It’s all discussed in an artistic way as the worlds between Caden as a high school student and Caden on a ship blend.
Also, I like how the language used changes. At the beginning of the novel, Caden uses words that can be seen as harmful toward the disabled community, but as he learns and admits that he thought wrong of mental illnesses before, the language he uses changes to a much more natural, less harmful one. That was a nice touch to see how the language you use changes as you change.
My main critique was how the novel can seem disorientating and slow at first. Which matches Caden’s feelings, but it took a while for me to grasp the concept of what is going on. I almost wished there was an obvious way to show the connection at the beginning. Or perhaps I just missed it.
Overall, I can see why this book has won so many awards. It’s a great story about the trials of mental health, and I highly recommend it.
Average rating on Goodreads: 4.14/5