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A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Lose

Neal Shusterman draws from real life in Challenger Deep, the story of a boy’s descent into mental illness and his efforts to break free.

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Lose

BOOK REPORT for Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Cover Story: Dive Deep
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Boy, Interrupted
Bonus Factor: Real Talk
Relationship Status: Thinking Of You

Cover Story: Dive Deep

I’m more than a little worried about the boy on this cover, who’s apparently diving into the depths of the ocean without so much as a swimsuit.

The Deal:

Caden Bosch used to be “normal.” He used to be the guy who got along with everyone, who did well in school, who was really good at art. Slowly, however, Caden has started to pull away from anyone and anything he used to know or be. He reverts into himself, becomes plagued by paranoia, and his art turns into scribbled messes. His “adventures” on a pirate ship heading for Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Marianas Trench, is fraught with strange characters and confusion.

Caden Bosch isn’t “normal.” Caden Bosch is mentally ill.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

There’s a part of me that thinks that, were I a member of Caden’s family, I would have noticed his descent into illness way sooner. But after finishing the book, I realize that it’s not always as easy as one might think. Caden keeps his illness to himself, and the outward warning signs are not clear cut. He can function semi-normally, even while the voices in his head are screaming at him. What he needs, more than anything, is someone to be there for him through thick and thin, someone who, although they can’t empathize, tries their hardest to understand.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Caden makes a friend while in the psychiatric hospital, who he might have been more interested in were they both in different situations, but it’s all very innocent.

Talky Talk: Boy, Interrupted

Although I have no basis for this assumption, reading Challenger Deep felt a little like I was experiencing the rise and fall of mental illness along with Caden. I’m sure the symptoms and effects are different for every person who experiences it, but Neal Shusterman has written Caden’s situation in a way that is both relatable and completely foreign. The book’s chapters are short, and they switch between a lucid Caden, stories about life on “the ship” heading for Challenger Deep, a less lucid Caden, memories of better times, and what happens in the psychiatric hospital. But while their subject matter can be confusing, the language is not.

Challenger Deep is not an easy read, but I think it’s an important one—Shusterman has based this story in the reality that one of his sons faced, and many of Caden’s drawings in the book are actually Shusterman’s son’s.

Bonus Factor: Real Talk

Mental illness, and the many forms it takes, is one of those things very few people like to discuss, either because they don’t know how or it’s too hard. Like I mentioned above, Challenger Deep takes on mental illness in a way that makes it accessible; the book shows the reader what it’s like to experience one, but doesn’t delve too far into the darkness. I think it’s important for people to try and understand about mental illness, and Challenger Deep does a pretty great job at opening lines of communication—it’s just left up to us, the readers, to actually have the conversations.

Casting Call:

Max Thieriot as Caden

Relationship Status: Thinking Of You

Well, Book. I can’t say that our date was the best I’ve ever had, but I do think that it was one that I’ll remember for a long time. I’m here if you need me; don’t be afraid to call.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from HarperTeen. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Challenger Deep is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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