Inspired by his son’s battle with mental illness, Neal Shusterman (Unwind series, Simon & Schuster) has written an intense, unsettling, but often witty and funny, YA novel putting the reader in the head of 15-year-old Caden Bosch, who suffers from a form of schizophrenia.
Initially, Challenger Deep is disorienting as the narrative moves between Caden’s increasingly unfocused reality and his delusional world on board a pirate ship. But once he is admitted to a juvenile psychiatric ward and put on a regime of therapy and medication, the connections and overlaps between his two realities become clearer.
As the ship heads towards Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean, the climactic, and metaphorical, choice for Caden between abandoning himself to the abyss, or fighting to ascend onto dry land comes into focus.
Wild swirling illustrations, full of intricate amorphous shapes by Brendan Shusterman, from his time “in the depths” pierce the text. There is also an author’s note on his family’s experience of mental illness and a thorough list of resources is included.
The challenging narrative structure and shrouded metaphors, along with bleak insights on mental illness and the frequently blunt way in which it is treated, make this a book for mature readers.
(Note: This was the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature – hurrah!)