Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406396119.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. It begins with the back cover of the book that invites the reader into two worlds.
Challenger Deep is located in the Mariana Trench and is said to be the deepest point in the world's oceans. Caden Bosch is on a ship headed to that place. Caden Bosch is a high school student whose days are consumed by walking and the thoughts in his head.
The author skilfully and compassionately draws the reader into Caden's reality, a confusing world where ordinary objects take on extraordinary properties. Caden's world is sculpted by schizoaffective disorder. Neal Shusterman presents a world that doesn't make sense and crafts a story that gently reveals to the reader that Caden is unwell. Shusterman's characters are richly drawn and urge the reader to consider the pain and loneliness of the individuals and their families as they grapple with the consequences of mental illness.
We learn by reading the author's note that the artwork for the book was provided by the author's son and that, though this is a work of fiction, the author has firsthand experience in supporting his son through a journey with mental illness. This goes some way to explaining the complexity of the detail in the story, the deep understanding extended and the intensely moving description of the road to healing in the hospital.
This is a powerful book that is profoundly affecting. It is compelling and very difficult to put down. If ever there was further encouragement needed for us to ask "Are you okay?" - this book is it. A must-read for teachers and parents it comes with a trigger warning for mental illness and suicide. A discussion guide is available.