I have a complicated relationship with Neal Shusterman. I really enjoyed Scythe but I didn’t much enjoy Unwind. I never really planned to read this book because it just didn’t sound like something I’d be interested in — I try to avoid sad books whenever I can — but I needed a book with the word “challenge” in the title for my Popsugar Reading Challenge, and, well… here we are.
First things first, this book is sad. It’s about a teenage boy deep in the throes of mental illness, and it’s just heartbreaking. I want to mention here that there are some books about mental illness that I’ve really appreciated. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine comes to mind right away, and so does Turtles All the Way Down. There are also some books about mental illness that I have despised, like All the Bright Places. Because, the thing is, mental illness isn’t something to glamorize. It’s not a cute quirk. It’s not something to be flippant about in a book. Luckily, Shusterman treats Caden’s story with the respect that it deserves.
I’m not going to say that I enjoyed reading this book, because I didn’t. It was hard to listen to. It’s confusing at the beginning, but it’s supposed to be confusing. Caden has trouble distinguishing between reality and his delusions, so we’ll be in his real life for a minute before we abruptly transition to him being on a ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s disconcerting, but again, it’s supposed to be. The book is very, very well-written, but it’s confusing and difficult to read.
There is a bright spot in all of this though, and that’s how supportive Caden’s family is of him. His little sister in particular handled everything so well.
It’s hard for me to say whether or not I’d recommend this book. I think if you’re interested in a really character-driven story about a teenager with schizophrenia, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. If you like your stories with a bit more action and with more of a clear plot, maybe skip it.
Have you read Challenger Deep? Can you recommend any YA about mental illness?
Let’s talk in the comments!