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    • Challenger Deep – Book Description

    • Order a Challenger Deep artwork print and support NAMI—the National Alliance on Mental Illness

    • A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.

      Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

    • Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

    • Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.

    • Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

    • Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

      Caden Bosch is torn.

    • Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today’s most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep “a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.”

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With lyricism and potent insight, Shusterman (Unwind) traces the schizophrenic descent and return of Caden Bosch, an intelligent 15-year-old and a gifted artist. His internal narratives are sometimes dreams, sometimes hallucinations, and sometimes undefinable, dominated by a galleon and its captain, sailing with an enormous, sullen crew to the deepest point of the Marianas Trench, Challenger Deep. The metaphor’s not exactly subtle, but Shusterman finds unexpected resonance in its details—the tarry seams in the wood, the human ballast. External reality still registers: people around Caden run the gamut of humor, scolding, threats, and avoidance to pressure him into changing behavior he no longer controls. Shusterman has mined personal experience of mental illness with his son Brendan, whose line drawings mirror Caden’s fragmentation in swirling lines eerily reminiscent of Van Gogh. It’s a powerful collaboration, and crucial to the novel’s credibility. As Caden says, “There is no such thing as a ‘correct’ diagnosis,” and though his story doesn’t necessarily represent a “typical” experience of mental illness, it turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won’t easily forget.


Award-winning author Shusterman returns to realistic fiction with a breathtaking exploration of one teen’s experience with schizophrenia. Caden Bosch thinks there’s somebody at his high school who wants to kill him. But that’s not all. There are things happening outside of the typical space and time constraints that he can’t understand. He feels at once all-powerful and frighteningly powerless. Caden slowly drifts away from friends and family and deeper into his mind, until his parents admit him to a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Shusterman beautifully deploys dual narratives that become increasingly intertwined in this remarkable story. In addition to the grounded-in-reality narrative, he introduces another world, where Caden is out at sea, with the Captain, a girl named Calliope, a parrot, and more. All of these characters eventually match real-world counterparts, in the hospital and beyond. In confessional back matter, Shusterman explains his inspiration for this powerful story: his own son’s experience in the depths of mental illness. Brendan Shusterman’s illustrations, interspersed throughout, contribute significantly to the reading experience. With the increasing demand for understanding of mental illness, this is a must purchase. Haunting, unforgettable, and life-affirming all at once.


Fantasy becomes reality in an exploration of mental illness based partly on the experiences of the author’s son, who is also the book’s illustrator.

For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth. In an internal reality that’s superimposed over Caden’s real life—where his behavior slips from anxiety to hearing voices and compulsively obeying signage—an Ahab-like captain promises riches in exchange for allegiance, while his parrot urges mutiny for a chance at life ashore. Shusterman unmoors readers with his constant use of present tense and lack of transitions, but Caden’s nautical hallucination-turned-subplot becomes clearer once his parents commit him to Seaview Hospital’s psychiatric unit with its idiosyncratic crew of patients and staff. However, Caden’s disorientation and others’ unease also make the story chillingly real. Except in the heights of Caden’s delusions, nothing is romanticized—just off-kilter enough to show how easily unreality acquires its own logic and wit. The illustrator, who has struggled with mental illness himself, charts the journey with abstract line drawings that convey Caden’s illness as well as his insight. When the depths are revealed with a dream-logic twist and Caden chooses an allegiance, the sea becomes a fine metaphor for a mind: amorphous and tumultuous but ultimately navigable.

An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper understanding of the condition.


Caden Bosch lives in two worlds. One is his real life with his family, his friends, and high school. There he is paranoid for no reason, thinks people are trying to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In his other world, he’s part of the crew for a pirate captain on a voyage to the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There he’s paranoid, wary of the mercurial captain and his mutinous parrot, and tries hard to interpret the mutterings of his fellow shipmates as they sail uncharted waters toward unknown dangers. Slowly, Caden’s fantasy and paranoia begin to take over, until his parents have only one choice left. Shuster man’s latest novel gives readers a look at teen mental illness from inside the mind of Caden Bosch. He is a credible and sympathetic character, and his retreat into his own flawed mind is fascinating, full of riddles and surrealism. Shusterman based the novel on his son’s mental illness, and Brendan’s input regarding his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and psychiatric care makes the novel ring true. Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. VERDICT This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion.


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.


12 Comments so far:

  1. Kendy says:

    Wow! Great read! Super engaging and thought provoking. Couldn’t put it down for long.

  2. S moll says:

    Why are you not coming to Y’all Fest?

    • admin says:

      Have been waiting for an invitation — but haven’t received it yet. Authors can’t go to events like Y’all Fest without being invited.

  3. Sequel Please says:

    Will there be a sequel?

    • Neal says:

      Challenger Deep is a stand-alone. It packs it’s full punch in a single volume – not the kind of book I’d write a sequel to! 🙂

  4. […] due to some faraway meetings, or driving from class to class. Luckily, I’ve had an audiobook. Challenger Deep is the National Book Award winner for Young Adult Fiction. It describes the experience of a boy who […]

  5. This book is AMAZING! I’m a sixth grade teacher and I’ve teamed up with a 12th grade teacher to collaborate with this book. My kiddos will focus on the pirate ship and its characters while the seniors students will tackle Caden’s reality. It’s going to be really cool to see how we start making connections between the two and also see the difference in interpretations between the ages.

    Would your publicist be so kind as to send our school a couple of posters/bookmarks or any other publicity materials you may have to get the kiddos psyched for this ineradicable unit?


    Mason Roulston

    River Valley Middle School
    4334 Marion Mt. Gilead Rd.
    Caledonia, OH 43314

  6. […] Challenger Deep Author: Neal Shusterman Specs: 308 pages, with Author’s Note and mental health resource […]

  7. […] Shusterman, National Book Award Winner, Young People’s Literature, spoke about his book Challenger Deep. The title comes from the deepest known point on the earth, a spot in the Mariana Trench. It lies […]

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