National Book Award 2015 Finalist – Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

November 14, 2015 Bonnie Book Reviews, Read in 2015, YA 3 Comments

National Book Award 2015 Finalist – Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Illustrator: Brendan Shusterman
Published by HarperTeen on April 21st 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Mental Illness, Realistic YA Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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four-half-stars

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.

‘Sometimes the darkness beyond is not glorious at all, it truly is an absolute absence of light. A clawing, needy tar that pulls you down. You drown but you don’t. It turns you to lead so you sink faster in its viscous embrace. It robs you of hope and even the memory of hope. It makes you think you’ve always felt like this, and there’s no place to go but down, where it slowly, ravenously digests your will, distilling it into the ebony crude of nightmares.’

Caden Bosch’s descent into schizophrenia takes readers on an unforgettable adventure that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s mere fantasy. Caden is a gifted artist at the age of fifteen years old yet he possesses an inner drive, a compulsion, that he can no longer keep quiet. His art becomes frenetic and he begins walking his town for hours based on a uncontrollable desire to fill the empty sidewalks with his presence. And sometimes his mind takes him elsewhere, where he’s a part of a crew on a galleon and their mission is to reach the deepest point of the Marianas Trench, a place called Challenger Deep.

‘The things I feel cannot be put into words, or if they can, the words are in no language anyone can understand. My emotions are talking in tongues.’

Ironically, this was my first read in my National Book Award experiment, yet it’s the last one I sat down to review. This was such a staggering read for me that it really took me some time to fully process Caden’s story and how it made me feel. I suppose the expected response is sadness and pity, but it was so authentically told that it transformed this story into something truly substantial for me. Despite the fantasy world that Caden lived in, his struggle becomes something real. We glimpse just enough of the outside world to realize how much his loved ones are also impacted and how they struggle to understand his inner turmoil. How his parents plead with him to change his behavior when it’s well past the point of his ability, so he’s placed in a mental institution when they don’t know what else to do for him. Almost in defiance of such a melancholy story, is the subtle (yet effective) humor that is laced throughout.

“If you continue making progress,” one of the nurses told me earlier today, “I see no reason why you shouldn’t be going home in a couple of weeks.” Then she added, “But don’t quote me on that.” Noncommittal is rampant among the committed.

Sprinkled throughout this story are various pieces of art which are original pieces from the authors son,
Brendan Shusterman. The story itself exists solely because of the experiences of Brendan who has personally struggled with mental illness, which makes sense as to why this story rang so true for me. Challenger Deep will certainly leave readers who haven’t suffered personally to gain more of an understanding and compassion for those that do.

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