Challenger Deep: A Rapid Fire Review

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015) Find it on Bookshop

Challenger Deep by Neal ShustermanIn a year when we have books like All These Bright Places with deeply damaging portrayals of mental illness, the literary world needed this honest portrayal of one boy’s struggle with schizophrenia. (Although it has to be said that the inclusion of illustrations from Shusterman’s own son felt a bit indulgent.)

Sadly, because I have a heart of stone, this book left me deeply unaffected. It’s one of those where I can tell it’s Important but I also can’t bring myself to Care on a personal level as a reader. I think Challenger Deep is a great book to recommend to readers; the way in which Shusterman weaves everything together clearly demonstrates his talents as an author. This book definitely and completely deserves the praise its been getting solely for what its done to get more people talking about mental health and mental illness.

The one flaw here is having Caden’s medications leave him numb. I don’t know where to begin with the fact that in his author’s note Shusterman says he experienced that effect himself when he accidentally took two pills. That’s not how treatment with medication works. At all. Why would his reaction to the pills be at all indicative of how someone who actually needs the pills would react to them? No. Just no.

Challenger Deep won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. That says a lot about the level of skill in Shusterman’s writing while handling a difficult topic and wrestling with some complicated material. The way in which this story weaves together Caden’s reality with his hallucinations–seamlessly moving between moments of madness and clarity, as it were–is fascinating and intricate and handled very, very well. An interesting and important addition to the ongoing conversation about mental illness.

4 thoughts on “Challenger Deep: A Rapid Fire Review

  1. You’re too funny. “Heart of stone” bwhahahha. But I am glad that you thought that it was important, because I do too :D

    As for the medication thing, very often medications (really a LOT of psychiatric medications, but those for schizoaffective disorder in particular) make patients feel very numb. I don’t even know if “numb” was the best word to use, even. I know I have had medications that made me feel perhaps like your aforementioned “heart of stone” ;) But seriously, emotionless. A shell. It’s like, okay, maybe you’re not feeling as bad as before, but it’s because you legit aren’t feeling a damn thing. Also, with these pills, there are a lot of unpleasant side effects. I DO agree with you about the note though, I don’t think that was the best way to explain it at all. I think he was probably just trying to like, relate to people who had no mental health experience? But yeah, I agree with you, very much NOT the same thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also felt very unaffected by Challenger Deep, which was sad because I wanted to love it so badly. However, while saying this, I definitely think it’s an important novel for others to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I put it at a work event: There is a difference between books that are capital-i Important and books that are significant. *mic drop*

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one left cold!


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