This was my first book that I read for the Mental Health Book Bingo! This was my book for the delusions/hallucinations square.
A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.
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.
This book. THIS BOOK. Challenger Deep has one of the best depictions of delusions and paranoia that I’ve ever read. This is something that I’ve struggled with myself (yay for antipsychotics!) and I honestly was taken aback by how accurate the descriptions of Caden’s delusions are. The book throws you right into the deep end (no pun intended) and into Caden’s head. The narrative is split between delusions about being on a ship voyage to the Marianas Trench, and deep, intense thoughts about and experiences of mental illness:
The fear of not living is a deep, abiding dread of watching your own potential decompose into irredeemable disappointment when “should be” gets crushed by what is. Sometimes I think it would be easier to die than to face that, because “what could have been” is much more highly regarded than “what should have been.” Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.
Sometimes the two narratives converged – so, for example, Caden believes that he has been thrown inside a cannon in his delusion, when actually he has been put inside an MRI. It was very interesting to see the ways in which his brain could take real-life events and spin them into delusions about the ship.
Peppered throughout the novel are illustrations done by Neal Schusterman’s son whilst he was in the midst of his own mental ill health. In the note at the end of the book it is explained that he helped his father write the book in order to ensure that the descriptions were accurate to his experiences. I really liked that.
Overall, I would seriously recommend Challenger Deep as a YA novel about mental illness. Beautifully and sensitively written, it explores mental health, which is indeed as deep as the Marianas Trench.
Trigger warnings: suicide, extreme mental ill health