Book Review – Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Hello everyone,

I’ve been busy so I wasn’t able to write this review until now. Here we go. This one was a doozy.

Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. HarperTeen. 2015. 320 p.0061134147.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary/ Analysis:

Challenger Deep is about a boy named Caden Bosch diagnosed with schizophrenia who lives double lives due to his mental illness. In one life, he is a teen living with this illness who fades in and out of his daily life. In another, he is a part of a crew on a pirate ship. Soon the two lives begin to intersect as he gets admitted into a psychiatric hospital.

Now I don’t want to spoil anything so I will leave the summary short. Where to begin… One thing that I would like to present is that this book helped me understand schizophrenic patients and people who are unknowingly suffering from this mental illness. I think it cleared up a lot of confusion and ignorance about the topic, not only for myself but for other people who have stumbled onto this novel. I think many of us place this stigma onto people who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disease that they are more likely to be violent and are thus deemed “crazy” and “psychotic”. And although they go through psychotic or manic episodes, they are not psychotic in themselves. And not all of them are violent, very few are. I understand that we have a lot more work to do to further understand these diseases and that we’re still figuring out the right dosage for these patients but this novel was such a tool in helping me eradicate my own false understandings of these diseases. This novel also reminded me so much of a book we actually read in class called It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. Both characters are admitted into a type of psych ward although they both suffer from different mental illnesses but their experiences are pretty similar. Although, since Caden has schizophrenia, his experience wavers between real life and his life on the pirate ship. Speaking of that, I thought it interesting how in the psych ward, Caden is in one place and stays there, whereas, on the pirate ship, they are moving towards a location called “Challenger Deep” which is a deep pit in the ocean that supposedly leads to treasure. It was interesting to make the connections between Caden’s real life and the one he leads on the pirate ship because you would recognize certain sayings, characters, events and match them accordingly and this helped understand just how real the life on the pirate ship was to Caden’s real life, at least to him. I think that’s often where the line blurs for them but for people who do not understand, cannot possibly match the two together, which is understandable as well. So there was much going on in this novel that you had to both keep separate but also be able to connect at the same time to truly understand Caden’s mind which at times proved challenging.

Teaching Ideas:

I think I would teach this to a class because it offers so many experiences and possibilities. What I mean by that is the novel itself offers many connections between the outside world and Caden’s mind. He quotes Shakespeare, the many colorful personalities in the psych ward each possess their own mental illness, he remembers many memories that relate to his current mental state, he has knowledge of sailing a boat and how to run a boat, and of the many pills he takes, etc. There’s so much to dive into. Not only to make connections between the two worlds but I think ultimately what I would want my students to get out of this is to understand and to empathize with these people. Not to look at them as victims because I feel as though they have been portrayed too many times as victims and honestly, it’s not like they ever asked for these mental illnesses but it has simply become a part of their lives. There even is a character in the book that sees herself as a victim of her past and her sufferings and that is all she will ever be unless she strives to see anything else around her. So I want my students to understand and throw away any misconceptions on mental illness in general that they may carry because this book truly opens your eyes.

Rating: 6/10. What? Why the low rating? As I said, this book, unfortunately, felt a bit too long for me and I’ll be honest, it is a bit slow pacing and the diction seemed a bit boring. There were many colorful metaphors that intrigued me but that’s it. It was a powerfully impactful book but just not my style.

The next book review will be on…. Inside Out by Terry Trueman. And this book also has a schizophrenic boy as well. I don’t know why I chose two back-to-back books on mental illness but they interest me so let’s do this!


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