Challenger Deep

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Challenger Deep Book Poster Image
Sensitive tale of teen's descent into mental illness.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 7 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Challenger Deep presents an up-close look at a teen boy's descent into schizophrenia and some of the methods used to treat his mental illness. The medical procedures and therapies are based in fact.

Positive Messages

Challenger Deep emphasizes that, though there may not be a complete cure in all cases, mental illness can be treated. Those who suffer from it can lead happy, productive lives.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As he begins to experience the onset of schizophrenia, Caden Bosch tries to hold on to a normal life. But as his thinking spirals out of control, he has to fight to reconnect with reality. Even at his most desperate, Caden struggles bravely to face his fears and heal.


Most of the violence in Challenger Deep is imaginary, part of Caden's fantasy about traveling aboard a mysterious, magical ship. The vessel is attacked by carnivorous sea horses and endures a battle between a giant squid and a whale. The captain and his parrot each want Caden to kill the other; he eventually commits such an act.


Caden develops a friendship with Callie, a fellow patient. They hold hands and cuddle together in bed one night.


Language is generally mild, with an instance or two each of "hell," "damn," "ass," and "bastard."


Mountain Dew and Jell-O are mentioned. Caden and his parents use Tylenol and Advil. Pharmaceuticals mentioned include Ativan, Geodon, Risperdal, and Seroquel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Caden's parents become "tipsy" while vacationing in Las Vegas. Caden admits to drinking beer at parties. The sailors aboard the fantastical ship drink "cocktails" (which are probably medicine). At the hospital, Caden is put on a regimen of antidepressants and antipsychotics.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Challenger Deep is a stand-alone novel by Neal Shusterman, author of The Unwind Dystology. It deals frankly with issues surrounding teenage mental illness. Caden, the narrator, experiences paranoid and delusional thinking and is hospitalized. A character attempts suicide. Violence in the book is mostly imaginary and centered on a fantastical ship on which the captain and his parrot want to kill each other. Language is mild, with an instance or two each of "hell," "damn," "bastard," and "ass." Sexual content is limited to hand-holding and one night of cuddling in bed. Caden's parents are mildly intoxicated in one scene. Caden takes a "cocktail" of prescribed medications, and the regimen helps him heal.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bylouiejumbobrown March 11, 2020

Not a Bad Book

This book was not bad. Confusing at times as reality and his hallucinations are woven into the book. The obvious hallucinations such as being on a pirate ship a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bykykymathis September 9, 2019
I think that it was ok for 12 and up but most parents wouldn't want their 12 year old reading this. I really liked it. It's heartbreaking but it'... Continue reading

What's the story?

Fifteen-year-old Caden used to like going to school, hanging out with his parents and sister, and designing video games with his friends. But now he thinks someone at school wants to hurt him for reasons he can't explain. He walks the neighborhood for hours on end and experiences frightening, intrusive thoughts. After he's hospitalized, he struggles with the effects of the drugs he's given and tries to make connections with his fellow patients. Meanwhile, Caden daydreams about a mysterious ship where he's under the orders of an erratic, one-eyed captain and an overly talkative parrot. What are the connections between the ship and his medical predicament? And will he ever be able to leave them behind and return home to his family?

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how mental illness can affect parents and children. How is treating a mental illness different from treating a physical one?

  • How can dreams and fantasies reveal truths about what a person is feeling or experiencing?

  • Does talking about your problems and fears help alleviate them?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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