Book Review: Challenger Deep

Background Information

Full Title:  Challenger Deep

Publisher and year:  Harper Collins, 2015

Author :  Neal Shusterman 

Plot Summary 

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student, whose behavior is beginning to concern his friends and family.  His previously wondrous artistry is becoming more and more abstract and wandering, and his grades are beginning to slip.  

Caden’s world inwardly begins to split, between two worlds.  One side of him is still rooted in reality, but a reality in which  he thinks everyone around him is plotting how to best destroy him. The second version of Caden’s world exists merely in his mind, where he is on board a ship headed for Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean, located somewhere inside the Marianas Trench.  

In reality, Caden pretends to join a track team, but instead spends his days wandering for miles, haunted by the thoughts inside his head.  

On board the ship, Caden begins to be split between the captain and his parrot.  The captain offers him riches and power, while the parrot offers him something the captain never can: freedom.  

Caden’s world begins to  fall apart, as he must choose between the promise of power and safety, and the allure of the mutiny that means his freedom.

Thoughts on Style   

The book has a dual narrative.  Much of the story is narrated directly from Caden, describing what is happening to him in first person.  Alternately, Caden describes himself in second person.  Since Caden is mentally ill, these narratives make sense. Caden’s adventures at sea are paralleled to his real experiences.  Shusterman does this in stunning fashion and also has a rare gift with words, leaving the reader both enchanted and haunted.


Because Caden has mental health problems, his worldview is somewhat skewed. In the hospital, he generally does not trust or listen to those in authority over him.  At one point, once he has healed, he reveals that he stopped taking his medication.  The doctor in charge of him tells him this was a wise choice, although, at the time, a disobedient one. The kids in the hospital generally have little respect for authority.

On the ship, Caden has a little more respect for the captain than he does for his doctors, but doesn’t follow even the captain’s instructions much of the time. Caden is much more respectful to his fellow patients/crewmates, than he is to those in authority.  Indeed, the reader begins to see that Caden can help his fellow patients much better than the doctors over him can.

Age Appropriate/ Content

There is no major language in this book, but ass is used numerous times.  Also, rape and suicide (both attempted and successful) are discussed.

Other than this, the book is rather intense.  After all, the author is describing the very mind of someone who is mentally ill. Caden uses images that may disturb younger readers,e.g., a worm devouring him from the inside out.

Overall, I don’t think this book would really trouble a reader of any age who would have the will to read a book discussing this particular subject.

Age Recommendation:  14+

Final Thoughts

I really loved this book, and I guess I say that about lot of books.  This one really stood out for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, Shusterman’s very unique use of words and his ability to communicate his ideas powerfully.  And secondly, Shustman’s powerful parallels between Caden’s voyage and his real experiences.  This became more and more clear as the book went on.  Overall, I was really struck by this book, and would certainly recommend it.

Overall Rating:  4.6 Stars 


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