Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2015)

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Review #88

Caden Bosch is on a ship headed towards the Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth located in the Marinas Trench. Sometimes. Other times he is a fifteen-year old high school kid who is beginning to have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is not. Caden Bosch is elected the ship’s artist, whose job it is to document the ship’s crew with pictures. Sometimes. Other times he is a boy who cannot stop moving, who quits the track team and instead wanders for miles around his neighborhood. Caden Bosch is beginning to contemplate mutiny against the ship’s captain but is still holding on to his allegiance. Sometimes.

Neal Shusterman dives deep into the heart of mental illness with Challenger Deep, and explores how a person’s mind can begin to betray them. Caden Bosch is never diagnosed with anything specific, but his symptoms exhibit signs of schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. He begins to feel constant paranoia and anxiety, and his social functions plummet as he loses the ability to hold a sustained conversation. Shusterman, who uses many personal details from the life of his own son, portrays Caden as someone who has great inner strength but finds that all the perseverance in the world cannot always combat the continuous onslaught of mental illness.

Shusterman depicts the confusion that Caden feels by ensuring that his readers have some difficulty discerning exactly what is going on at any given time. His chapters are short, only three or four pages long, and vary from Caden on board a sailing ship in the middle of the Pacific to Caden trying to hold on to the pieces of his life while his illness threatens to consume him. The first fifty or so pages of Challenger Deep twist into a big jumble before settling into a more straightforward narrative. In this way Shusterman helps us to empathize with his protagonist.

Challenger Deep represents a brutally honest, yet ultimately sensitive portrayal of mental illness. Caden’s struggles are never glamorized or dramatized for effect. We identify with his struggles and rejoice with his rare glimmers of hope. He understands that he will never be “cured” and instead has to come to terms with the fact that his mental illness with be with him for the rest of his life. Instead of this being a sour note, Caden is able to meet it with resignation.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Challenger Deep here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2012)

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Julia and her family wake up on a seemingly normal Saturday afternoon to find out that the world they took for granted has changed. The rotation of the Earth has begun to slow, causing night and day to extend by a few minutes each day. As the process stretches out, gravity is affected, birds begin dying off, and people are split between those who stick with the twenty-four hour clock and those who still follow the rhythms of the Sun.

“There was no footage to show on television, no burning buildings or broken bridges, no twisted metal or scorched earth, no houses sliding off slabs. No one was wounded. No one was dead. It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe”

Take a moment and think about how dependent we are on the rotation of the Earth. For billions of years the sun has risen and set on a twenty-four hour cycle. The movements of the sun tells us when to begin and end our day. It tells us which meals to eat and when. When it is safe to go out on the street versus when should we lock our doors. Now what would happen if all of the habits ingrained in our circadian rhythm were suddenly disrupted? What if school began in the middle of the night? Or if you were expected to go to sleep in the bright afternoon light? The Age of Miracles explores the idea of how society would adjust to cope with the loss of the intrinsic dichotomy of night and day.

“We were, on that day, no different from the ancients, terrified of our own big sky.”

This book is difficult to categorize. It’s a little bit YA, a little bit science fiction. It’s a coming of age story, a natural disaster story, and a story about time and our natural relationship with night and day. It’s also a beautifully written novel about a girl who is trying to come to terms with her life when everything she took for granted in her life is suddenly upended.

My favorite part of this book is that it is written from the perspective of an eleven year old girl. Too much of the natural disaster genre focuses on “scientist who is totally brilliant but overlooked until its too late”. Instead, we watch the Earth stop spinning through the eyes of someone who is more focused on whether or not the cute boy on the bus is going to pay attention to her. Children don’t expect the same things from life that adults do. For Julia, the biggest problem she is currently facing is not that the sun hasn’t risen in twenty hours, it’s that her best friend is no longer speaking to her. The main plot of the story almost plays like a backdrop to the everyday pitfalls and triumphs of an ordinary teenager. In this aspect, The Age of Miracles is utterly unique, which means that it is also utterly unpredictable.

Something else that kept cropping up in this novel was the idea that even when presented with an extinction-level crisis, humanity will somehow always find time to create an “us” versus a “them”. In this case, it’s the people who choose to carry on with a twenty-four hour clock versus the people who decide change their sleeping patterns to fit with the changing sun. It is sadly unsurprising that the two groups cannot seem to peacefully coexist. Even when faced with our own destruction, society will feel the need to know that they went down swinging in the “correct” way.

Overall, this was a quick read that kept me thoroughly engaged from start to finish. Walker’s prose borders on poetry at times, but she manages not to stray into the realm of overly sappy or purple language. I would definitely recommend this book.

My rating: 4/5

You can find this book here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!