Challenger Deep

Neal Shusterman
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Dec 21, 2015

There are two things you know. One: You were there. Two: You couldn't have been there.

Wondering how that can be? So is Caden. Sometimes. When he stops to think about it. Often he just goes along and doesn't question things, just accepts that's the way they are. But other times he feels out of sync with his family, friends, and others around him. He feels confused.

Readers sharing Caden's story from inside his head will feel confused almost all of the time. It skips around from one place to another--one reality to another. Caden is a high school student living a typical life. Caden is on board a pirate ship in search of the treasure buried at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, a ship where the strangest, most fantastical things happen. Caden is a high school student living an atypical life, doing things his family, friends, and others don't understand. It's all a confusing mash of narratives that flow into and out of each other freely. "It" being the story. "It" being Caden's perception of reality. "It" being Caden's mind.

Perhaps you've seen the statistics about how large a percentage of homeless people have mental health issues. You've surely seen scenes on TV and film where a street person rants about things only they can see, scarily disconnected from reality; and perhaps you've seen it in person. That is Caden. Only Caden doesn't know it, he just lives the reality that presents itself to him. Readers only know what Caden knows.

Journeying with Caden in Challenger Deep is a fascinating glimpse into an unusual experience. Fascinating, confusing, frightening, powerful, and captivating. It will almost assuredly give you insight into the minds of those with mental health issues and change the way you perceive them.

It might even, as a side effect, give you insight into the much more mild ways we all spin, interpret, construct our perceptions of reality.

"Systolic's still high. We'll up your Clonidine," it says. "And if that doesn't work, we'll just pop your head like a balloon."

Some of these things are actually spoken. Some aren't. Yet you hear them all the same, and you can't tell which words are out loud, and which are sent to you telepathically.


You feel pain down low, and you glance at your feet. You're barefoot. You've been walking around that way, and it's left your feet blistered, scraped, and bloody. You don't remember taking off your shoes, but you must have. There's meaning to that, too. Meaning to the way your flesh connects to the earth, telling gravity to hold you and everyone else down. And suddenly you know that if you put shoes on your feet, the world will let go and everyone will be hurled off into space, all because of a thin layer of rubber that would cut your connection to the ground.


The scariest thing of all is never knowing what you're suddenly going to believe.


"There are many ways to view the world," Dr. Poirot tells me on one of my clearer days, when he knows I'll digest it, and not just repeat back what he says. "We all have our constructs. Some see the world as evil, some see it as a basically good place. Some see God in the simplest of things, some see a void. Are they lies? Are they true?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"I'm just pointing out that your construct has gotten out of alignment with reality."

"What if I like my 'construct'?"

"It can be very seductive, very seductive. But the price to live it is severe."

Reviewed by Chris K.
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