Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperTeen on April 21, 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary, mental health/mental illness, fantasy
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Note: My rating for this was originally three stars because I read the majority of this novel with hurting eyes and mashed potatoes for brains, but, after thinking about it more, I’ve added another star because of the important messages this book sends and the poignant, creative way it deals with those messages.
In my reading circles, Neal Shusterman is a highly-respected name. I’ve heard nothing but good things about his Unwind series, and when I saw he was writing a new book, I was intruiged. So, when I found Challenger Deep at the library, I checked it out, excited to acquaint myself with Shusterman’s writing.
Only, I’m not quite sure this was the right book to take with me on a family roadtrip.
You know how you get exhausted and sleepy if you read too much in one sitting? Well, I spent hours reading this book in the car, which wouldn’t be a problem if this book weren’t so intense and…metaphorical, for lack of a better word. “Metaphorical” meaning that there was a lot of symbolism and unreliable narration in this book—not all of which was obvious—and trying to decode things while cramped in the back seat of my family’s van for a 10-hour car ride was draining. I think this did a number on my enjoyment of the book—and, therefore, my initial rating of the book, which has been bumped up to four stars—unfortunately.
Other than that, I can’t really describe my reading experience of this book to you very well; it’s a story you yourself need to experience individually. Through both writing and illustrations Shusterman (who did the writing) and his son (who made the illustrations) draw for us the map of young Caden Bosch’s mind, a map that not only contains continents of unexplored territory, but also a map that is constantly being rewritten. In this book, we see Caden gain his identity by losing it first, and it’s a heartbreaking, powerful story with equally powerful messages about mental health and the way our society treats it. (Especially the Acknowledgements section; I was moved almost tears.) This novel not only has heart—it has guts, and, if you’re into symbolism galore and unreliable narration, I’d say pick it up, if only for the messages it sends.
Just don’t make the mistake I did and take it on a roadtrip.