September 19, 2020

Neal Shusterman: "Challenger Deep"

Title: Challenger Deep  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Neal Shusterman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2015 (originally from HarperTeen, but it's been reissued on Aug. 6th 2020 by Walker Books)
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Perfect blend of raw and poetical, honest and hopeful. Comprises two smartly connected narratives.
Cons: Not so much a "plot" story as a "situation" one (though at least one of the narratives is punctuated by some colourful events).
WARNING! Lots of talk about mental illnesses of course. An attempted suicide (off-screen).
Will appeal to: Those who can appreciate a quiet, yet powerful novel from the double perspective of a single character.

Blurb: 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. (Amazon)

Review: I can't vouch for the accuracy of the schizophrenic rep in this book, but I guess the next best thing to having a person diagnosed with a mental disorder narrate his own story is reading his author father's take on it (and mind you, he got his son's input). Then again, art is about creating order out of chaos, and maybe making us understand it better...


Caden is a high-schooler with friends, hobbies, talents, and a family who loves him (including a younger sister he sounds very fond of). We meet him when he starts to spiral into a condition that isn't explicitly labeled (though it's obviously some form of schizophrenia - but then again, the book makes a point about labels not being necessarily accurate or helpful, because it's different for everyone, as the medical cocktails given to each patient are), and follow him all through his hospitalisation in a mental health facility; but at the same time Caden tells his story as a member of a mysterious crew on a ship sailing to the infamous Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the oceans - and that's where we get some action, if of the weird kind. Personally, I was captivated by the second narrative even before the connections with Caden's "ordinary" reality started to become apparent, but when they did (often in unexpected, but always smart and significant ways), I was in awe. This literary technique made me really understand Caden's plights and witness his struggle, and yet the story managed to stay entertaining (for all the right reasons). [...]


I haven't read many books where psychiatrists and the like play a role, but alas, for too many of them, it only takes reading a few reviews to realise that they are often depicted as the villains of the story - or oblivious/clueless at best. While I hope that in the years to come there will be a plethora of books addressing mental issues and mental health professionals the right way, I can safely say that Challenger Deep does that already. Of course, Caden is not happy with the facility routine, and a dry humour is his coping mechanism, but the doctors and the nurses always come across like human beings who are doing their best, though it may not necessarily be enough and mistakes (even tragic ones) can be made. Also, the rules are in place for a reason, and only in the inmates' best interest (though of course they rarely, if ever, appreciate it).


If you're looking for a story where "stuff" happens, this isn't that kind of book. But if you're intimidated by the idea of reading a novel about mental illness because you're afraid it will be heavy and boring, this isn't that kind of book either. And if you've been burned in the past by stories where mental illness was romanticised or treated like a superpower in reverse, this is the book that will restore your faith in the "genre". There's nothing cheap in this story - nothing that goes for shock value. Then again, there's no sugarcoating in sight either. But I swear that, as harsh as Caden's reality can be, there's also humour (if a bit dry, as I said), and affection, and compassion, and ultimately hope - though you have to work at keeping it alive.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Contemporary/Contemporary with a Twist books click here.


  1. I LOVED this book. I read it a really long time ago, but I think I’m due for a reread purely because I think I may be able to relate to it more now. I definitely agree that doctors and therapists in novels are often depicted as villains, but in reality, that is rarely the case! I need more books that show positive relations with therapists and patients.

    1. I'm glad you had such a positive experience with this book, and if you decide to reread it, I hope you'll find even more to love!

      And yes, we need to normalise therapy 🙂.

  2. I really like seeing more books that show mental illness in them.

    1. More and more books are shattering the stigma, and it in turns helps people to realise they don't need to be ashamed of neeeding help.

  3. We actually have (and had) a schizophrenic in my family. This is Shusterman, who I feel would handle the illness properly in his book. So, wow! 5-stars. Amazing! I have heard many good things about this book (and him as an author in general), and keep meaning to read it. I feel like it has to be read, not listened to, and I get to a lot of my backlist via audio (hence, why I have yet to read this).

    1. I'm not the best judge, since I don't do audio, but I think it will work well either way. The parts where Caden has his "adventure" on the ship in particular sound suitable for an audio read.

  4. I agree, this book was so incredibly well done! I always recommend it when talking about mental health, as I definitely think Shusterman did a wonderful job (as always, frankly!) Great review, I am so glad you loved it too!

  5. I've never read Shusterman but have heard good things. The whole Challenger Deep thing has me interested too, as well as the mental health representation. It sounds very well done.

    1. It's different from your usual story, but it's gripping all the same, and the message is both important and well executed!

  6. This story surprised me in so many ways. I agree that it was amazing!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. It wasn't your usual MH story - not that there's anything wrong with them, but this one was not only surprising, but also very effective.

  7. This is one of those books that shows how different our tastes our sometimes, haha. I DNF-ed this book because I expected a "normal" contemporary novel and this really wasn't that and wasn't anything I enjoyed. *hides* I'm glad you loved it, though! :)

    1. Expectations can mess with our perception of a book...but it can simply be a matter of tastes in this probably prefer a more straightforward narrative!


Welcome to Offbeat YA! I love hearing from you and always - I mean always - acknowledge your comments. This used to be a full democracy place, because anyone could comment, regardless of being a registered member of any community. Unfortunately, I had to turn off the Anonymous comment option, because I was getting too much spam that didn't get filtered. So, you’ll need to have a Google account (Gmail will suffice) in order to comment. Sorry about that. Anyway, jump right in! Come on, you know you want to...😉 And be sure to leave a link!
BTW...I don't care if a post is a million months old - you comment, I respond. And you make my day 😃.
Note: this is an award/tag free blog. Sorry I can't accept nominations due to lack of time.

As per the GDPR guidelines, here's the link to my Privacy Policy.