Week 15, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Week 15, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman 

Shusterman, N. (2015). Challenger Deep. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.


Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 5.35.49 PM.pngThis haunting novel is focuses in on 14-year-old Caden Bosch and his mental illness. Caden has schizophrenia, which causes him to hallucinate scenarios in which he is navigating towards the deepest place on Earth at the bottom of Challenger Deep. In real life, the people around him begin to worry and are concerned about what is going on in his head. Meanwhile, Caden’s mind is filled with a subplot of a captain promising fortunes while his own parrot cries for mutiny. Eventually, Caden is taken to Seaview Hospital’s psychiatric unit for treatment but his unstable condition becomes alarmingly real. In Caden’s hallucinated subplot, he eventually makes a choice and the audience sees a metaphor for the mind come to light.

Keywords: mental health; hallucinations; captain and parrot; life’s struggle

What I Think:

I really enjoyed this novel. While covering a difficult topic, this book takes a refreshingly deep look into the mental health world and what it feels like to experience schizophrenia. I really enjoyed this book for the author’s style, including his lack of transitions which helped the reader feel the choppiness and disorientation that the character feels. For example, in chapter 73, Caden is on the ship having a discussion with with the captain in his study. In this scene, we see these two interact as Caden realizes he has slight power over the captain and then is told that, for his loyalty, he can have “the honors of killing the parrot” (Shusterman, 2015, p. 128). Immediately after this quote, the author moves into chapter 74 truly without transition, as he begins an entire chapter on a childhood memory triggering his realization that he is quirky. Between these two chapters, the storyline is completely different and there is no transition to warn the reader of the shift. This demonstrates how Caden’s mind may have worked as he jumped between one reality to the next.
Additionally, I liked this book because of the included pictures throughout. As I found out, these pictures were actually drawn by the author’s son whom the book is essentially about. These pictures go along with chapters found throughout the book and demonstrate the feelings of the main character as he experiences events in life. I love being able to have an insight into the mind, thoughts and feelings of Caden that are conveyed through these authentic drawings. This extra detail adds to the book and truly added to my enjoyment as I read!


What the Experts Think:

Award-winning author Shusterman returns to realistic fiction with a breathtaking exploration of one teen’s experience with schizophrenia. Caden Bosch thinks there is somebody at his high school who wants to kill him. But that’s not all. There are things happening outside of the typical space and time constraints that he can’t understand. He feels at once all-powerful and frighteningly powerless. Caden slowly drifts away from friends and family and deeper into his mind, until his parents admit him to a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Shusterman beautifully deploys dual narratives that become increasingly intertwined in this remarkable story. In addition to the grounded-in-reality narrative, he introduces another world, where Caden is out at sea with the Captain, a girl named Calliope, a parrot, and more. All of these characters eventually match realworld counterparts in the hospital and beyond. In confessional back matter, Shusterman explains his inspiration for this powerful story: his own son Brendan’s experience in the depths of mental illness. Brendan Shusterman’s illustrations, interspersed throughout, contribute significantly to the reading experience. With the increasing demand for understanding mental illness, this is a must-purchase for library collections. Haunting, unforgettable, and life affirming all at once. -Jennifer Barnes

Barnes, J. (2015). Challenger deep. The Booklist, 111(11), 47.

Classroom Recommendations:
 This book would be great to use with a group of students struggling with mental health issues, especially students with schizophrenia. This book has a trailer that the students could preview to predict what this book might be about. Then, after reading the book, the students would go back to the trailer and discuss how it connects and portrays the main character, Caden.  Next, I would have the students choose a new book that deals with a mental health issue and read through it, providing the group with summaries and updates. After the students finish reading, they will make their own trailer for the new book they read and share with the rest of the group. This would allow for the students in the group to choose a book that is even more relevant to them and then be able create a visual of the feelings of that main character.

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