BookPage Teen Top Pick, May 2015
Characters with a mental illness often find a place in literature, but they are infrequently the main character and seldom found in young adult novels. Although teens with psychoses garner plenty of attention in the news today, the fictional world is still catching up. Award-winning author Neal Shusterman takes the topic head-on in his new book, Challenger Deep, and does so with sincerity.
In his own voice, Caden Bosch tells the story of how he slowly loses his connection to reality and how his world starts to look very different from everyone else’s. The chapters fluctuate between “real time”—going to school, talking to his parents, hanging with his friends—and “ship time,” when he finds himself on a galleon at sea that seems to be his waking dream. As Caden spirals further into mental illness, the lines between these two realities blur and merge seamlessly, pulling readers ever closer to the sensation of a psychotic episode.
Shusterman’s personal experience of his own teenage son’s mental illness lends a powerful and genuine tone to the book. His son, Brendan Shusterman, penned the illustrations for the story, many of which were drawn during the worst of his illness.
Challenger Deep is difficult to read at times—as it should be—as readers are drawn into the depths along with Caden, but it is also extremely compelling and hard to resist. Shusterman is a master storyteller and it shows.
Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through eighth level Catholic school.