Parents' Guide to

Challenger Deep

By Michael Berry, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Sensitive tale of teen's descent into mental illness.

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A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 1 parent review

age 14+

One of the best YA books about mental illness

Challenger Deep is told in an unusual way: the story unfolds through short, alternating chapters conveying the main character as both a regular teenage boy and a pirate on a ship. While this may seem strange to some readers, this may have been one of the reasons why I loved it. While the unique alternating realities are special, I also love that this story itself just feels so touching, heart-breakingly raw, and wildly separate from reality at the same time. There are certain scenes in this book which may seem crazy and unrealistic, but… if you keep on reading, everything will eventually fall into place. You’ll begin to understand all of the strange happenings, and why Caden sees the world in the way that he does. I’m usually hesitant about reading/talking about mental illness-related books, since some of them are not told by people who have experienced the mental illness themselves. However, Challenger Deep was heavily inspired by Neal Shusterman’s son, and his experiences with schizophrenia. Knowing this also helped me to understand the severity of this story, and how real it can be for some people. Of course, everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. But unfortunately, in today’s world, a lot of people have no idea what to think about many mental illnesses. I’m ashamed that I grew up thinking schizophrenia was synonymous with “multiple personality disorder” (which is now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). For some reason, the media often portrayed mental illnesses however they wanted and in a simplified manner, so that people like me were often sheltered from discovering what it was actually like to have those illnesses. While the media seems to have gotten better with the way this is handled, it’s still not good enough, and not much better at all. Reading this book several years ago, and even now during this reread, opened my eyes to the struggles others endure in their every-day lives. It’s heartbreaking that many mental illnesses are often dismissed because they’re not as common as anxiety or depression, but books like Challenger Deep are important because they highlight some aspects of mental health which would otherwise not be shared. Generally, I was riveted while reading this book. Even after my first read and when I already knew how it was going to end, I still enjoyed the ride and sat at the edge of my seat. This book is very character/emotion driven, and if you’re more of an action/plot person, this book may not be for you. Challenger Deep is more about personal discoveries and emotional acceptance than anything else.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1):
Kids say (11):

CHALLENGER DEEP is a sensitive, nuanced, and keenly observed tale of what it might feel like to have a mental illness. Caden and his family are depicted as fully rounded individuals, and their scenes together are by turns funny, chilling, and heartbreaking. In an author's note, Neal Shusterman reveals that his own family faced some of the same challenges as Caden's; that first-hand experience goes a long way to grounding the novel in reality.

At first, the fantasy scenes aboard the mysterious ship seem disruptive to the momentum of Caden's story, but as they accumulate details from the boy's waking life, they become more involving and, eventually, indispensable. The artwork by the author's son, Brendan Shusterman, offers a glimpse into the emotions of someone dealing with mental illness.

Book Details

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