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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 58/100: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep - Brendan Shusterman, Neal Shusterman

This is one of those books that is going to be hard for me to review.

First off, I know it's an important book. Contrary to a review I read on the book, it is NOT rare for YA literature to tackle mental illness, but I've never seen it addressed in quite this way. Challenger Deep consists of two parallel story lines, one that takes place in the "real world" and one that takes place on a pirate ship. It is not difficult to see how these stories intersect as you read on. Still, it takes a little while to get grounded in the story. The pirate storyline is not historically or culturally accurate, and at the beginning it seems free-floating enough that it's hard to find an anchor (no pun intended) to hold on to. This made me prefer the "real-world" storyline in the first half of the book, although as the book went on the pirate storyline began to make more sense and proved very intriguing.

This book really gave me a "feel" for what it might be like to experience schizophrenia, especially in the dream-like sequences on the pirate ship and in the descriptions of Caden's increasingly unusual drawings. Is this an "accurate" depiction of what life is like for a schizophrenic teen? I have no way of answering that and hope that people with direct experience or mental health expertise will weigh in.

This book was scary in that there was no clear "reason" for Caden's schizophrenia. Of course, we know it is a mental illness that does not need a "reason" other than the brain chemistry one was born with. But I wondered whether anyone else in Caden's family tree had ever struggled with mental illness. His parents are supportive and fleshed out fairly well, but neither of them seems able to provide any insight into what is happening to their son, and they both seem pretty mentally healthy.

Although this still feels like a "problem novel," Caden IS more than his mental illness. He has interests, is concerned about his sister, develops a crush, and speaks his mind. The presence of an adult mentor who is managing his own schizophrenia was also a nice touch, giving the reader an idea of what a history might look like for Caden.

I wavered between giving this book three and four stars. This is my first Shusterman book, and there is no doubt that he is a gifted writer. The teen voice and the dialog ring true. I didn't find the end to be completely satisfying and thought the revelation of who "The Captain" really was was a bit of a letdown, although I can also see the symbolic role he may have played in Caden's life. Also, I already mentioned the slow beginning. But the middle is strong -- ultimately too strong to relegate this book to 3-star territory.