Ugh. 4 stars? 5 stars? I just couldn’t decide. I went with 5 because my only reason for leaning 4 was comfort. This was not really my kind of book, so it took me a while to get into. Possibly my own roller-coaster of a life while reading had something to do with that.
Regardless of my mood, style, or reading preferences, Challenger Deep was gorgeous. I was taken fully inside Caden Bosch’s skin to witness, as he experienced it, the descent of his functional life into the abyss of mental illness. I know more than I care to know about what it must be like to live with such intense barriers. Not only does Neal Schusterman take us where no one without direct experience could ever dream of taking us, he does it masterfully. He is an artist with words, and Challenger Deep is his portfolio. I have not yet read any of his other books to know if he is always so powerful a writer, but I know that he wielded the power with humor, compassion, and more skill than I ever hope to write with.
All that said, Challenger Deep was a weird book. Disturbing. Fun. Quirky. Sad. Angering. Hilarious. Hard (for me, anyway) to really enjoy for a while, thanks to its intensity. But once I was able to devote a little more time to it, it gripped me, and I was strapped in for the ride. I don’t want to give away any of the beauty within these pages, but I will say that the book was hopeful. If I had known that at the beginning, I would have committed earlier. If I read the end of the book before the rest, like some irresponsible daughters I have, I would have known it was OK to keep going, that I was not going to be dragged along for this painful journey with no light at the end. But I did not know that (because I have some measure of willpower more than said daughter). So I struggled.
The gift I give to you, which I admit is a tiny, but worthwhile spoiler, is the knowledge that Challenger Deep IS hopeful. Keep reading, without fear of your heart being ripped from your chest with no redemption. I did cry. It was a hard book to get through at times. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I thank Neal Schusterman for that, for me, a reader debatably free from mental illness, but especially for those directly affected by the horrors. Hope is a wonderful gift.