Mock Printz: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

challenger deep

Challenger Deep

Neal Shusterman

Genre: Contemporary/Mental Illness

Bang Bang Rating: bang

“Count your blessings…And if you count less than ten, cut off the remaining fingers.”


Caden is a lot of things.  He’s an artist, he’s a sophomore, he’s a member of the crew on a sea vessel.

The Good-It’s very difficult to review this book without spoilers so I’ll be as vague as possible.

  • The Story. So this is another mental illness story and there have been a lot of these books this year but this one stands out because of the way the story is told.  
    • In other books, we see how mental illness affects friendships and the people surrounding the protagonist. Some of the story is about the protag and we get to experience their illness through them but for the most part it’s about their romantic interests, friends, and ineffective parents.
    • Challenger Deep is all about Caden and his illness but it’s told in an unconventional way.  The captain has taken over Caden’s brain and he’s telling him what to do. 
      • Half of the story is Caden’s time on the vessel with weird and interesting characters and the other half is his time in a mental institution-meds, therapists, other teens. 
    • Caden has parents who actually care and try to get him help-UNBELIEVABLE! 
    • Caden must make realistic and relatable choices that any person must make. The reader is able to hear Caden’s inner monologue as he makes his decisions

The Bad

There’s nothing bad about this story, it’s all fantastic.


Challenger Deep dives into Caden’s mental illness not through narrative but through visuals.  As most of us have a vague familiarity with his illness, we don’t know what is going on in the mind of people who suffer this affliction or the process of maintaining.  Shusterman’s writing and characters are honest and thought provoking.  I hope to see Challenger Deep as a Printz honoree.

Other Comments-Spoilerish

I’ve read other reviews say that Caden’s experience is a metaphor but I disagree. I am one of those people with a vague understanding of schizophrenia but I know that people with this illness hear voices that sometimes tell them to do things.  The captain and parrot are not metaphors but what is actually going on in Caden’s mind.  The captain is talking to Caden.

I also have been reading that teens won’t “get it,” and that this book is over their head. As a teen librarian, I TOTALLY DISAGREE and it bothers me when people think that teens aren’t intelligent enough to understand a story that doesn’t have some mindless love triangle.  I understand that this book in not for all teens but to assume that Shusterman wrote the story for his adult readers and not teens is a gross assumption that YA lit cannot be insightful but must be dumbed down.

If we as a YA nation say that teens won’t “get it” then publishers will put an end to The Grasshopper Jungles and the Bone Gaps and The Raven Boys and The Fault in Our Stars and the Kiss of Deceptions and The Harry Potters and The Hunger Games. 


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