January 15, 2016

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep is a young adult novel about a teen boy's slide into mental illness. It is told from his perspective and it is enlightening. The chapters are short and they move back and forth between the real world, where Caden is behaving bizarrely, and a world on board a pirate ship where Caden's job is to pace back and forth on the deck of the ship to keep the ship steady against the swells of the sea. Caden realizes this is pointless, but the other options are worse. The ship is run by The Captain and The Parrot who are at odds.

The books was written with the help of Shusterman's son who has dealt with mental illness personally, and who provided all the drawings contained in the book. The descriptions of the wild thoughts that don't seem to be coming from within feel spot on, because they are so similar to those normal freakish thoughts we all have, but a couple steps further. The thinker takes those freakish thoughts and runs with them, instead of laughing them off. He can't tell what is real.

The book is really affecting. When I was about 2/3 through it, I was driving the kids to school in the dark one morning, and noticed that the dual exhaust pipes on the car in front of me, combined with the red brake lights, made the back of the car look like a demon face. I recognized this as one of those weird thoughts that I can laugh off, but Caden may have used to convince himself that the driver of the car was out to get him. This made the story personal.

This is an important book for teens and families who may be dealing with mental illness. It gives an honest portrayal of what mental illness feels like and what can be expected in a treatment facility. It also gives hope for a positive outcome.