Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Sunday, January 3, 2016

Plot Summary:

Caden Bosch is caught between two worlds. In one world, he is part of crew led by a captain obsessed with the Marinas trench (aka Challenger Deep). In the other world, he is a teenager who can't sit still and unable to shake the idea that someone is trying to kill him. Whether he is conversing with a the treasonous parrot that would do everything to overthrow the captain of the ship, or walking at all hours of the day around the neighborhood, Caden can't escape the feeling that he is trapped and has no way to escape. As Caden gets to know his fellow shipmates, he realizes that he has met these people before and, when he alienates his friends at home, he realizes that something is going on and he has to find out why everyone is abandoning him. As time goes by, the fear and the dread becomes more real especially when he is appointed cartographer by the captain AND learns that the ship, itself, is alive and wants to know everything that happens on board. The closer they get to Challenger Deep, the more treacherous the journey has become. Moreover, Caden's parents have  become increasingly concerned with the fact that he hasn't been honest about his whereabouts and his overall behavior. Just when he thinks he has found a way out, Caden is suddenly captured and taken to a place he doesn't want to be. Fortunately, for Caden, this place not only helps him decipher the mystery behind his mission to Challenger Deep, but to figure out if someone is out to get him. In this gripping story about one boy's struggle with his own mind, readers will see how fragile we are and how we need to recognize that certain behaviors need to be addressed in order to help those we love and care about. Bravo, Neal Schusterman for winning the 2015 National Book Award!  

Critical Evaluation:
As a librarian, youth advocate, and reader, I cannot express how necessary and needed this book is. Not only is time for a real discussion about mental illness, it is time to take a stand and help young people recognize the signs and symptoms and understand that there is no shame in asking for help. For Caden, schizophrenia is so powerful that it not only clouded his judgement, but it almost destroyed him when he decided to go down Challenger's Deep. What saved Caden is that his parents noticed how disconnected he was and decided to place him in the care of professionals who know how to treat this illness. Not only is Schusterman spot on with his descriptions of Caden's treatment, he provides three point of views that include: Caden's delusion, reality, and his family's helplessness. What most people don't realize about mental illness is that it affects not just one person, but that person's support system. As reader's read about Caden and his battle, they not only see the ugliness of mental illness, but they will also see the power of Caden's spirit, especially when soars out of Challenger Deep and back into the arms of those he loves. Anything is possible when we find the strength to overcome the darkness within us by asking, and accepting, help from those around us. This is such a powerful story that will bring reader's to tears, but it will also provide hope that if we are stricken with mental illness we can defy the call to Challenger Deep by choosing to ignore the call. If not, knowing that we can get the help we need to by recognizing the signs and telling someone.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Award-winning author Neal Shusterman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he began writing at an early age. After spending his junior and senior years of high school at the American School of Mexico City, Neal went on to UC Irvine, where he made his mark on the UCI swim team, and wrote a successful humor column. Within a year of graduating, he had his first book deal, and was hired to write a movie script.
In the years since, Neal has made his mark as a successful novelist, screenwriter, and television writer. As a full-time writer, he claims to be his own hardest task-master, always at work creating new stories to tell. His books have received many awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, as well as garnering a myriad of state and local awards across the country. Neal’s talents range from film directing (two short films he directed won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards) to writing music and stage plays – including book and lyrical contributions to “American Twistory,” which is currently played in several major cities. He has even tried his hand at creating Games, having developed three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens, as well as seven “How to Host a Murder” games.
As a screen and TV writer, Neal has written for the “Goosebumps” and “Animorphs” TV series, and wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie “Pixel Perfect”. Currently Neal is developing an original TV series with his son, Jarrod, and adapting Tesla’s Attic with co-writer Eric Elfman for TV as well.
Wherever Neal goes, he quickly earns a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. Much of his fiction is traceable back to stories he tells to large audiences of children and teenagers — such as his novel The Eyes of Kid Midas. As a speaker, Neal is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give Neal a unique approach to writing. Neal’s novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor.
 Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Issues

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Challenger Deep:
  • Inside Out by Terry Trueman
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Awards & Recognition:

“A brilliant journey across the dark sea of mental illness; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.” (Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak)

“Haunting, unforgettable, and life-affirming all at once.” (Booklist (starred review))

“An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper understanding of the condition.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Clearly written with love, the novel is moving; but it’s also funny, with dry, insightful humor. Illustrations by the author’s son Brendan, drawn during his own time in the depths of mental illness, haunt the story with scrambling, rambling lines, tremulousness, and intensity.” (Horn Book (starred review))

“Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. VERDICT This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

“A powerful collaboration...[Caden’s] story turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won’t easily forget.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A thoroughly realistic story...Both male and female readers will find this compelling while acquiring a deeper compassion and understanding. ” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

“Shusterman does a masterful job...The intensity of living inside Caden’s mind makes this a wrenching read.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review))

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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