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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Neal Shusterman
- Illustrator: Brendan Shusterman
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: History, Misfits and Underdogs, Pirates
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: April 21, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.