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. A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today's most admired writers for teens.
CHALLENGER DEEP is told entirely from Caden's perspective; sometimes Caden is in the real world, and sometimes he is on a pirate ship bound for the deepest part of the ocean, under the control of a one-eyed captain and his cruel parrot. The reader struggles to determine what is real, and what is not, just as Caden does.
What I loved: The balance between character development and an honest portrayal of mental illness.
Caden is a very well-developed character. It was clear from the beginning that he is a boy with a lot of different sides, and the reader gets to know them all.
Caden is a very sick boy. Shusterman modeled Caden on his own son, who has been treated for schizophrenia. The drawings scattered throughout the books were done by Shusterman's son, and are reflections of the boy's mental health. The unashamedly honest and necessarily accurate portrayal of mental illness from inside Caden's own head is so powerful.
We get to see Caden's thought processes, the effects of medication, or lack thereof, on his everyday functioning. We see his spiral into darkness, and his return into the light, and everything in between. Shusterman masterfully portrays the benefits and detriments of treatment, and how a lesser evil is often the only choice for someone at the end of their rope.
The verdict: A masterpiece of contemporary fiction, CHALLENGER DEEP brings to life the challenges of mental illness in a compelling and eye-opening story. This is a must-read for everyone who has struggled with their own mental health, or the mental health of a friend or loved one.
This was the type of book where, I knew I was affected while reading it but it never really sunk in just how much it was affecting me until I was finished and had time to process the story. It was not an easy read and I was glad for that because the subject matter in no way should have been an easy read. Each chapter was short, only about a page or two, and it made for a lot of chapters, well over a hundred, but Shusterman made the most out of every short chapter.
The book went back and forth between Caden’s real life and life on the ship, but never in any particular order. There could be a few chapters of real life then a chapter of ship life then another real life then a few ship life. The more we got from both lives, the easier it was to see the parallels Caden was drawing between his two worlds. The book never shied away from showing just how isolating and frustrating it can be for someone in Caden’s situation.
As mentioned, it was not an easy read. It was definitely the kind of book you have to pay attention to while you read because the little details are important. With all the back and forth between real life and ship life and the blending together of both, it could have gotten confusing if I wasn’t paying full attention. Luckily, it was the kind of book I wanted to give my full attention to and was never tempted to skim. It was such a heart-wrenching journey for Caden.
There were illustrations done throughout the book, provided by the author’s son. They were hard to fully appreciate on the small digital screen I read the e-ARC on but I plan on buying a physical copy of this book so I can see them better.
Also, this is definitely a book where you want to read the acknowledgments at the end.