Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

How do you explain being there and being here at the same time? 

It's sort of like those moments when you're thinking about something big that burned itself a powerful memory. Maybe it's the time you scored the winning goal in the play-offs. Or maybe it's the time you got hit by a car on your bike. Good or bad, you're bound to relive it in your head now and then -- and sometimes after you've gone there, it's a shock to come back. You have to remind yourself that you're not there anymore. 

Now imagine being like that all the time -- never knowing for sure when you're going to be here, or there, or somewhere in between. The only thing you have for measuring what's real is your mind... so what happens when your mind becomes a pathological liar?

Caden Bosch is a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He's smart and athletic and has many friends. But Caden slowly begins exhibiting odd behavior. He thinks a classmate he doesn't even know wants to kill him. He tells his parents he joined the track team, when he really uses that time to walk miles and miles, lost in his disorienting thoughts. Despite his presumption that he knows more about science than his teacher, Caden fills in random bubbles on his scantron sheet instead of right answers. And the behavior only gets more extreme from there.

Challenger Deep is an incredibly powerful and personal tale of a young man's descent into the depths of schizophrenia. The book is a masterfully penned extended metaphor that would benefit a close reading of certain passages because important details are sure to be missed upon first reading. I was just in awe of how Shusterman could sustain a metaphor for a 300+ page book. That's a guy who knows his craft. Despite Shusterman being a prolific and sustaining presence in the world of young adult literature, and despite the fact that Challenger Deep is only the second Shusterman book I've ever read (I need to remedy that ASAP!), this book feels like a turning point in his career; a time when he's taken his writing to the next level. Much of that feeling comes from the deeply personal nature of the narrative, which was inspired by his own son Brendan's struggles with mental illness and is visually present throughout the book in the form of Brendan's artwork, "all drawn in the depths" as Shusterman notes in the author's note at the end. But not just the personal nature of the story is this a turning point for Shusterman, it's also one of the most painfully beautiful, literary YA novels I've ever read.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Published: April 21, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 320
Genre: Realistic Fiction (?)
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Audiobook provided by publisher/ARC acquired at ALA Midwinter

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