Review of Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep jacketstar2 Challenger Deep
by Neal Shusterman; illus. by Brendan Shusterman
High School   HarperTeen   318 pp.
4/15   978-0-06-113411-1   $17.99   g
e-book 978-0-06-223172-7   $9.99

This novel is a challenge to the reader from its first lines: author Shusterman takes us into the seemingly random, rambling, and surreal fantasies of fifteen-year-old Caden Bosch (yes, it makes sense to associate him with artist Hieronymus) as mental illness increasingly governs his consciousness. Fantasies about a pirate ship ruled by an abrasive one-eyed captain and his parrot, its deck swarming with feral brains (for example) commingle with Caden’s somewhat more comprehensible accounts of family and school, until his parents have him admitted to a psychiatric ward. As he responds to drugs and therapy, Caden’s fantasies become increasingly transparent, showing themselves to be imaginative, ungovernable versions of his hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Poirot, and his fellow patients. The disorientation Shusterman evokes through the first-person narration requires some patience, but it’s an apt, effective way to bring readers into nightmarish anxiety and despair — and out of it. Caden’s narrative is all the more engulfing because of the abundant wit and creativity evident in the eccentric specifics of his perceptions. Clearly written with love, the novel is moving; but it’s also funny, with dry, insightful humor. Illustrations by the author’s son Brendan, drawn during his own time in the depths of mental illness, haunt the story with scrambling, rambling lines, tremulousness, and intensity.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more