Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman Review: Diving into Schizophrenia

July 29, 2015 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman Review: Diving into SchizophreniaChallenger Deep by Neal Schusterman
Published by HarperCollins on April 1, 2015
Source: Borrowed
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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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.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today's most admired writers for teens.

Challenger Deep is not an easy read. But schizophrenia is not an easily understood illness. The book outlines the delusions, anxiety and paranoia which a schizophrenia sufferer experiences, at their worst, and it serves as a confronting and elegant look into a feared and misunderstood mental illness. I’m a big fan of books that tackle mental illness sensitively and realistically, and Challenger Deep had an artistic flair and beauty that hasn’t been replicated anywhere else.

I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to get used to the book. There’s no dallying around, it launches straight into these deep, hard hitting and impactful thoughts separated into several sections. My first impression was that these thoughts seemed to be random and jumbled together, and I wasn’t ready for that. But it soon pulled me into Caden Bosch’s frenetic and thoughtful mind, which was a wondrous, confusing and imaginative place, jumping from the “White Space Kitchen” ie. the hospital, to his place on a ship heading to Challenger Deep, medication, other patients, his parents.

“Everything feels right with the world……and the sad thing is that I know it’s a dream. I know it must soon end, and when it does I will be thrust awake into a place where either I’m broken, or the world is broken.”

Knowing what this book is about from the beginning, would probably ease the jump into the book. It’s rather hard to follow from the start, as it interchanges Caden’s imagination with reality. In Caden’s imagination, the adventure on a ship, interacting with the parrot and the villainous captain could be seen as a rather nonsensical adventure. But once I realised that what was happening in his real life transferred over to his imagination when he regressed into his mind, it became easier to follow for me.

Neal Schusterman’s author note at the end gave me goosebumps. Having experienced a close friend and his own son being diagnosed with schizophrenia, there’s no one else who could have offered such an elegant, heartfelt, thoughtful and accurate description of a patient suffering from the mental illness. It’s a scary place for both the patient and their family which was captured rather accurately here.

“The scariest thing of all is never knowing what you’re suddenly going to believe.”

Most importantly, Challenger Deep raised something that’s often unknown about mental illness – it’s never cured, but you can recover from it. You can move on and live life in normalcy, as long as you leave the medication and the management to the professionals, with the support of your loved ones.

There’s been many mental illness books, such as All the Bright Places which use romance as a recovery tool. But Challenger Deep takes a different tact, focusing on Caden’s recovery and strength within himself. How many YA/NA books have you read, where people only recover because of romance? This one is more realistic, empowering, raw and honestly, hard-hitting and emotional.


Challenger Deep is a powerful, artful and thought provoking novel, about a much misunderstood mental illness. It will confuse you, amaze you, grip you with raw emotion and leave you with a lasting impression. Seeing Caden go through such disturbing depths from his illness is an emotionally exhausting journey, but one that is an incredibly beautiful one. I could read this book again and have a completely different experience; that’s how deep it is.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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44 responses to “Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman Review: Diving into Schizophrenia

  1. I actually recently read a book about schizophrenia which I was able to really appreciate called Made You Up. I thought it handled the condition well and yet still came through with a story. I think this is one which has a more serious insight to the mental illness. I have added it to my TBR now.
    My recent post My Hoarding Catastrophe – Classic Crazy!

  2. This sounds like a very well written book, but I don't think I could read it. When I first heard about schizophrenia during my study psychology I thought it was one of the scariest mental illnesses out there. It freaks me out and I am not sure if I could deal reading about it. It sure isn't an easy illness to understand and I think it's great the author decided to adress that topic in his book. I think it's good that books adress these topics, especially such misunderstood illnesses as schizophrenia.

    I recently read a great book Summer Haikus where the mc dealt with a mental illness and instead fo romance curing her she never got cured, I liked that as it's honest and real and hard to accept. On the other hand I do believe that love can make things easier. Just knowing there are people there for you who care about you, can help a lot.
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  3. Romi

    I've said it before (I'm sure), but your rating method is utterly fantastic, Jeann. I love seeing those Mario stars each time I read one of your reviews. They're just like these perfect little bursts of happiness and supreme joy. I should totally get them painted all over my room.

    Your review is awesome-sauce. I know veeery little about this, apart from the fact I'm desperately keen to read it at some point. It sounds incredibly interesting and I like the way people are describing it as really honest and genuine. xx
    My recent post The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath…

  4. I'm glad you loved this one! I also had a little trouble with the beginning because of the writing, but overall I enjoyed it immensely. And yes I think it's great (and also a relief) that Challenger Deep doesn't use romance as a "cure" to his mental illness.

    Amazing review Jeannnn!
    My recent post Review: An Ember In The Ashes

  5. readerswonderland

    I've definitely intrigued, the writing seems amazing once you get used to it, I think I might have trouble with it in the beginning though too. And yes, I LOVE that the recovery isn't based on romance, I've been noticing that too and I think I would like this approach more. Very nice review 🙂
    My recent post The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

  6. This sounds like it will make me cry. It however makes me really happy when an author is able to portray a mental illness realistically. I get so angry when authors decide that romance is the cure to all, because I know first hand that it isn't. It is true, the resolve must come from within. If you rely on external forces, you are simply creating a crutch for yourself. And yes, for the good of yourself and those around you, stay on your meds. You may feel better and believe that you can cope without them, but the realistic truth is that you cannot. I think I may read this book. Amazing review Jeann! 🙂

    • Yeah, it was really moving and emotional. I totally agree with you about the romance thing, it's just unnecessary and just unhealthy and NOT true you know! Thank you Catherine!

  7. Totally agree, this book is just amazing. I just love everything that Neal Shusterman writes, and I think he is an absolute genius, but this had SO much substance, it was just mind blowing. I agree that it WAS really hard to get into, but I think given the subject matter, it made sense- like we were almost feeling the same way Caden was, to a lesser degree of course. Fabulous review!
    My recent post From Ordinary to Revolutionary: Could YOU do it?

    • Oh man, I have to read his Unwind series as well, I just can't wait! I totally know what you mean, it certainly was immersive! Thanks Shannon!

  8. I'm now so sorry that I didn't request this! I'm glad that you liked it, and I love the idea of a character in recovery and of a book that doesn't use mental illness as a plot device but really takes the time to explore the issue in a respectful and realistic way. And yes, please: enough with the books that suggest that romance is a magical cure for mental illness. If only that were true!
    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen @ YA Romantics

    My recent post Page to Screen: Paper Towns

  9. I'm glad you liked this one! I've been hesitant to read books of mental illness but lots of people take the pyscho approach or the romance cures all approach. Both do not sit well with me, and so often I see mental illness portrayed in a way I'd care not to see. I'm glad to see this book was heartfelt, elegant, and well done. I can't wait to see the main character as he struggles and eventually conquers in the end. Beautiful review <3

    Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books

    • I totally know what you mean, like it's always polarising. But this one was definitely done really elegantly! Thank you Rachel 🙂

  10. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    This year books about mental illness have been really making their mark. I'm glad that they're portraying mental illness in such a real way… Ive just added this book to my to read list.
    Wonderful review, lovely.

    • Thanks Kayla, OMG you're reading Ink and Bone. i need it now! I'm not sure whether to wait for the Australian release date a few months off or order it from TBD. But I probably won't have the chance to read it! I totally agree with the non-romance angle <3

  11. I remember Rashika really enjoying this one as well and I've had it on my TBR since then. I can see how this could be a difficult book. The subject matter is not easy to read about. I'm glad that this one was more realistic than some of the other mental health issue books that have been coming out lately.
    Wonderful review, Jeann!
    My recent post Review : No Kissing Allowed by Melissa West

    • I totally agree, there are so many emotional ones out there but this one was really hard hitting, especially when I read the author's note at the end. Thanks NIck! <3

    • I really liked it Rachel, it was fantastic! I could imagine, you really have to break the bounds of convention when picking this one up.

  12. Yay I'm glad you liked this one! I ADORED IT. I was pretty much, erm, drowning (hehe, excuse the pun) at the beginning with all the weird shipness and kitchen. I just didn't GET it but the more I read, the more I just got sucked in. x) I was super surprised it steered away from romance-as-the-recovery-tool AND VERY IMPRESSED. (Although I didn't think ATBP used romance as a recovery? Since there was…no recovery. *breaks down in tears* GAHHH THAT BOOK. Ahem. Focus, Cait. Focus.) 😀

    • I thought it was fantastic and so unique with the way it portrayed it! It was really weird, but I'm glad I patiently stuck with it. (There was romance as a recovery on one side of it in ATBP…)

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