Challenger Deep

By Neal Shusterman

22,573 ratings - 4.14* vote

Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN B00M70ESPOCaden 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 behaviour.Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence to document the journey with images.Caden Bo Alternate Cover Edition for ASIN B00M70ESPOCaden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on

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Book details

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
April 21st 2015 by HarperCollins
Original Title
Challenger Deep
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Emma Giordano

WOW I am blown away by this novel. This is an intense, intense story that you really need to dedicate yourself to reading. It is a truly incredible work of literature and absolutely deserves the title of National Book Award Winner. Eye-opening, thought-provoking, all around amazing.

TW: schizophrenia, talk of suicide

This is genuinely one of the greatest books I have ever read about mental illness. It is accurate, well-rounded, authentic as raw. As someone who suffered from a form of psychosis similar to schizophrenia, Challenger Deep was so validating to read. I honestly don’t know how Neal Schusterman captured exactly what this condition is like. Through collaborating with his son who deals with Caden’s illness and the immense amount of research put in, he somehow took the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that millions of people have and put it to paper. Color me entirely impressed by the fantastic portrayal of mental illness.

I will say, Challenger Deep has an unconventional storytelling format. Half the story is told from Caden's perspective in his hometown and the other half is from Caden's perspective on a sailing ship. While I can attest to the many reviews suggesting this was confusing, I believe it is crucial to what makes Challenger Deep so unique and intense. I struggled a bit in the beginning as the two perspectives seem so disjointed but it quickly becomes easy to understand the intent behind these passages.

Overall, Challenger Deep was amazing. I cannot recommend it enough.


"Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug."

Thank you, Neal Shusterman, for portraying the pain, the horrors, and the light touches of hope that come with mental illness. I have read at least one book (looking at you, All the Bright Places) that glamorizes mental disorders, and as an aspiring psychologist, such inaccurate perceptions of these real diseases disturb me. Through Caden, Shusterman shows the delusions and doubts and episodes of emotional dysregulation that come with schizoaffective disorder, and he does so in a way that advances the plot while honoring the pain that pervades Caden's struggle.

Despite my enjoyment of the book, I do wonder how younger readers with less knowledge about mental illnesses will perceive Shusterman's dual narratives. He switches between Caden's deterioration as he enters a mental institute and Caden's hallucinations of serving as a crewmate on a ship with a terrifying captain. I often felt a disconnect from Caden when he experienced his hallucinatory episodes (which makes sense, because of just how powerful and real they feel to him), and I question how other readers will construe Shusterman's narrative structure in Challenger Deep. Either way, he never makes light of Caden's situation or makes the mistake of glorifying it, which already sets this book apart from others.

Overall, a gripping read and affecting novel about a boy torn between two realities. Recommended to those who enjoy contemporary YA, feel an interest about a book that centers on mental illness, and to fans of Shusterman's other works.

Lala BooksandLala

"Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug."

This had so many powerful moments and moving quotes throughout, but half of it just didn't do it for me, y'know? I appreciate everything this book did, especially the scenes set in reality- I just found myself uninterested in the actual scenes and setting during the character's delusions that take place at sea. It was such a raw and real story to share, so I want to take nothing away from that- I just personally felt abruptly disconnected too often throughout for my own reading tastes.

C.G. Drews

This book is a blue puzzle pice of emotional genius. I am affected. I AM VERY AFFECTED. At first I felt like I was sliding headfirst and upside down through a tunnel...the prose was so very woah. Like Alice in Wonderland but making LESS sense. I panicked for a moment that I wouldn't like this book, but come on! IT'S NEAL SHUSTERMAN. I trust him. And oh, gosh, it paid off. This is the kind of story that gets lodged in your throat until you shout about it's marvellousness. SO HERE I AM. SHOUTING.

It's about mental illness, yes. But it's different. I recently read Alice and the Fly which also heavily featured schizophrenia. But the two are kind of incomparable. It has more of a It's Kind of a Funny Story vibe since the protagonist, Caden, is hospitalised during most of the book. I did appreciate that the book was about NOT putting on labels, and not squashing people into boxes. I want to hug it for that. Because THANK YOU. I wish more books had this kind of message. It took me on a very real roller coaster ride through medication and therapy and the pits of despair and recovery and the realisation that you can't cure mental illness, but you can manage it. Which is where I think a lot of books fail. BUT THIS ONE WINS THE WORLD.

There are many things I don't understand, but here's one thing that I know: There is no such thing as a "correct" diagnosis. There are only symptoms and catchphrases for various collections of symptoms.

This is a very personal book too, and I felt that while reading it. Then I read the author's note. He quotes that 1 in 3 people suffer from mental illness, and most of the experiences in this book come from his own personal family life, particularly his son. His son did the artwork for the book. Imagine putting so MUCH of yourself and your family in a book?!! It's incredibly brave. And I think it makes a huge difference. I just felt so connected to the book the whole time. I haven't experienced the depths that CHALLENGER DEEP explores, but I do suffer with anxiety and, gah, this book summed up SO much stuff so completely well. IT'S LITERALLY EXTRAORDINARY.

Okay, so the book is written kind of oddly though...half is real life, half is imaginary. I confess to being more interested in the real life parts. I guess it's a parellel. I struggled to match things up exactly...but I did see the comparisons! And that was incredible! I also love how, subtly, towards the end, the imaginary chapters were leaking into the real-life ones. It was so seamless and terrifying. I had a rocky start with the beginning because NOTHING made sense. But either I got used to it, or it smoothed out, but either way, the writing is flawless. It's delusional. It explains and makes you experience the fear and horror of being caught in delusions and knowing it's not real, but having to believe the delusions anyway.

Also, Caden's family just are great. While Caden's losing himself in the delusions, they're there for him. CAN I JUST SAY, THANK YOU? It's so uplifting and hopeful.

I basically love this story. It's scary and sad and confusing -- which exactly sums up what it's like to be mentally ill. It has PERFECT parallels. It explains things, and I think it'd make anyone empathises with the symptoms. It's loaded with extraordinary writing and a character my heart just broke for. This is easily an extraordinary book.



The fear of not living is a deep, abiding dread of watching your own potential decompose into irredeemable disappointment when "should be" gets crushed by what is. Sometimes I think it would be easier to die than to face that, because "what could have been" is much more highly regarded than "what should have been". Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.

"At home they expect you to be fixed," she says. "They say they understand, but the only people who really understand are the ones who've been to That Place, too. It's like a man telling a woman he knows what it feels like to give birth." She turns to me, forsaking her view for a moment. "You will never know that, so don't pretend you do."

Neil (or bleed)

UPDATE: Neal Shusterman has won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for this book! OHMYGOD!

EDIT: So this book is longlisted on National Book Awards. Yay!!!

"We are, however, creatures of containment. We want all things in life packed into boxes that we can label. But just because we have the ability to label it, doesn't mean we really know what's in the box. It's kind of like religion. It gives us comfort to believe we have defined something that is, by its very nature, indefinable. As to whether or not we've gotten it right, well, it's all a matter of faith."

This book is so deep I can see Adele rolling in it.

I know it's lame lol sorry. I sound like a 9gag commenter. Hahaha!

Kidding aside, Challenger Deep is a precious, beautiful book about the reality of mental illness. Confusing at first yet compelling until the end, this book conveyed an important message to the readers regarding with that sensitive matter.

I'm no expert but I think Neal Shusterman did a great job in depicting what is going on a mind of someone suffering from a mental illness. He masterfully crafted and told a story of a boy who's torn between the real and the imaginary without romanticizing it.

Challenger Deep is subtle and poignant. And me reviewing this book is like a betrayal since I can't give justice of how important this book is. I hope you can read it, too.

I really don't know what else to say but I think having a heartache and being teary-eyed while reading this book and typing this review will be enough to describe what I wanted to say.

Kristina Horner

I adored this book. It was a little confusing to figure out what was going on right away, but once the two stories start overlapping it all comes together in this beautiful and emotion way. I loved it, and it hit me in the feels more than a few times. Probably the books that's made me cry the hardest, but so worth it.


My first impression of this book was also the one that lasted - While reading I often felt like I was drowning in it; and about as often like I was re-emerging.

I will try to write a review that does this magnificent book justice, but I am also fully aware of the fact that no matter what I say and how, I will not be able to encompass it all.
But let's start at the beginning - Normally, I avoid books about mental illness as I avoid books about cancer. Authors often spiral out of control and go crashing into banalities and sugarcoating.
Not this book.

I picked it up because of the reference to the Mariana Trench, I wanted to know whether it would end at the title or whether the author would explore it further and draw more parallels. In order to avoid spoilers I will not answer the question - find it out yourself.
What I will say however is - nothing could have prepared me for this.
Imagine this -you are underwater with your face turned towards the surface. Beneath you is the bottomless darkness and you know you are sinking, deeper and deeper, but you are not frightened. Instead you watch the sunrays dance on the surface, you watch the waves, you may even hear something happening above you though it is muted. Everything is muted. You are in some strange, undescribable vacuum or maybe limbo. You know you have to re-emerge soon, the sooner the better, but you are torn. A part of you wants to stay this way, the other desires to escape the water and never enter it again. Focus on what you are feeling, on what you are not feeling.
It is a strange state to be in, isn't it?

(I have no idea why, but this book reminded me of the atmosphere of 'Spirited Away' and especially No-Face. Maybe because both the mentioned character and this book had some unique imperturbability about them)

The author constantly switches between two settings, the reality and the delusion of Caden's life. Through the use of mostly brief and emotionally intense chapters the atmosphere changes rapidly leaving the reader more often than not somewhere between confused, shocked and heartbroken. There is certainly no action in this book - it is deeply introspective and psychological but not plot-driven. As I have already said, there is a calmness in it that is both stunning and scary.
It is very soon that the reader realises that it is about a scattered mind and follows Caden's journey, or rather journeys. Watches him losing himself to his delusions and getting more and more out of control until, finally, he is hospitalized. There are so many chapters that are entirely detached from reality and all of them are allegorical. In these chapters every phrase, every turn of the head, has a meaning and it is not always graspable, neither to the reader nor to Caden. Likewise, there are many chapters that are real and shocking, yet somewhat hopeful, because there are people in Caden's life who are willing to help him, who are there for him and support him during his difficult episodes.
The book is scary and confusing and moving and heartbreaking. And I loved every second of it and deeply appreciated the insight and the honesty behind it. Following the deterioration of Caden's sanity was both horrifying and enlightning and this is probably one of the very few books that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The author does not glamorize mental illness. Not even once - which makes it even more heart-wrenching. No one is put into boxes, there is no sugarcoating. There is however the truth, the way a person experienced mental illness first-hand.
This book carries an important, poignant message which is worth sharing and which should be spread. HIGHLY recommended.

P.S. Only now, after going through the review to check for mistakes do I realise in what an emotional turmoil this book left me. I am still not over it.



I’m not sure what to rate this book.
On one hand, there were so many moments where I had the overwhelming urge to cry, because the depiction of mental health in the story was so raw, brutally honest and to a certain extend, relatable.

On the other hand, I had quite a few moments where I couldn’t connect with the story and the overwhelming symbolism would throw me off.

It might have been better had I taken more time with it, since it required some effort on my part to fully grasp the meanings.

The story is powerful though and I do recommend it. It felt personal as some aspects were based on his son's experience with schizophrenia. The chapters are short and interchange between the present and diving into the mind of the character who suffers from schizophrenia and the world he has build for himself. Or more correctly, his delusions. And those two correlating viewpoints colliding.

Xandra (StarrySkyBooks)

I think I'm feeling more emotions than the first time I read it? If that's even possible?

You can read my full review here on my blog, Starry Sky Books! This is one of my favorite reviews. If you're thinking about reading this book, I highly suggest you skim through my review, so you can find out some vital info about how the book is set up. (cw: mental illness, mental hospitals, mentions of self-harm, mentions of death, implication of suicide)

I would like to begin this review by saying two things: 1) This is a reread review. When I was younger, I used to give all of my favorite books 5 stars because I loved them, but also because I hadn’t read many books in general, other than my favorites. This one remains one of my favorites, and is the only 5 star review on this blog so far because of my history with it. But just because I love it, does not mean that you will! 2) Challenger Deep includes subjects which may not be for everyone. It can be difficult to read at times. Sometimes the story is slow or confusing, but the story is meant to be that way. This is one of those books which, unfortunately, requires you to understand the premise before reading, I’ve seen several negative reviews for this book, but a lot of them are due to the reviewers being confused for much of the book. Hopefully I can explain a little of this!

a little anecdote about this book:

When I found out about this book several years ago, it was because my school library had put up posters about it all over the place. Back in the good old days of 2015, Challenger Deep won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Libraries (at least, in my area) were advertising it well and whenever they could, and because of this, there were at least three posters of the book in my school library alone.

These posters intrigued me. “What is this book about?” I asked myself. “Why does it look like he’s drowning in water on a string? Why are all of the librarians obsessed with this book, when no one I know has read it?”

I later looked up reviews on Goodreads. From these reviews, I learned something that the synopsis didn’t convey. Challenger Deep is a story about schizophrenia. This piece of vital information may be what keeps you from turning this book away. I won’t go into any more detail than that, but I believe knowing this part of the story is crucial to how one understands why the story unfolds the way it does.

on to the review:

Challenger Deep is told in an unusual way: the story unfolds through short, alternating chapters conveying the main character as both a regular teenage boy and a pirate on a ship. While this may seem strange to some people, this may have been one of the reasons why I loved it.

I can see why some people might have been confused while reading this book for the first time, but when I look back on my past experience, I don’t remember ever being out of the loop. This is why I gave that small bit of info in the beginning! You’re going to need it. Safe travels.

While the unique alternating realities are special, I also love that this story itself just feels so touching, heart-breakingly raw, and wildly separate from reality at the same time. There are certain scenes in this book which may seem crazy and unrealistic, but… if you keep on reading, everything will eventually fall into place. You’ll begin to understand all of the strange happenings, and why Caden sees the world in the way that he does. And if you’re still confused in the beginning… I suggest you wait until chapters 75-84. That’s when everything will start to click!

I’m usually hesitant about reading/talking about mental illness-related books, since some of them are not told by people who have experienced the mental illness themselves. However, Challenger Deep was heavily inspired by Neal Shusterman’s son, and his experiences with schizophrenia. Knowing this also helped me to understand the severity of this story, and how real it can be for some people.

Of course, everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. But unfortunately, in today’s world, a lot of people have no idea what to think about many mental illnesses. I’m ashamed that I grew up thinking schizophrenia was synonymous with “multiple personality disorder” (which is now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). For some reason, the media often portrayed mental illnesses however they wanted and in a simplified manner, so that people like me were often sheltered from discovering what it was actually like to have those illnesses. While the media seems to have gotten better with the way this is handled, it’s still not good enough, and not much better at all.

Reading this book several years ago, and even now during this reread, opened my eyes to the struggles others endure in their every-day lives. It’s heartbreaking that many mental illnesses are often dismissed because they’re not as common as anxiety or depression, but books like Challenger Deep are important because they highlight some aspects of mental health which would otherwise not be shared.

Generally, I was riveted while reading this book. Even though I already knew how it was going to end, I still enjoyed the ride and sat at the edge of my seat. This book is very character/emotion driven, and if you’re more of an action/plot person, this book may not be for you. Challenger Deep is more about personal discoveries and emotional acceptance than anything else.

I would like to say, though, that the plot could have been possibly a bit better, and the ending could have been a tiny bit slower. But did I cry? Yes, of course. Did I love it? Still, yes.

my rating:

While I think it deserves something more like 4.5 stars, I already marked it as “5 Stars” on my Goodreads and I’m feeling generous/nostalgic today, so… 5 Stars it is!

Hannah Greendale

Starts slow but strengthens, matures, and astounds with every turn of a page.