Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Caden 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 Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

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.

#ps19: a book with “pop,” “sugar,” or “challenge” in the title
#mm19: seasons, elements, and weather

Have you read Challenger Deep? Can you recommend any YA about mental illness?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Source: Purchased

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

So, first things first! This was a buddy read with Kelly and I just want to thank her for doing this with me! You can see her review here, which is much more in-depth than mine!

Anyway. My thoughts going into this book were something along the lines of “I hated four of my last five books so fingers crossed for this one.” Not only were my prayers to not hate this book answered, but it actually exceeded my expectations. It’s the first dystopian novel that I’ve really enjoyed in a very long time.

It took me a minute to get into the book, but once I got past chapter five or so, I was really intrigued. The worldbuilding is so well done, the premise is really interesting, I loved the main characters, I really hated some of the side characters, and the whole thing was just so good. I planned out my reading very, very poorly this month and I have to catch up on a bunch of ARCs before I can jump into Thunderhead, but it’s definitely on my more immediate TBR.

Have you read Scythe? What about Thunderhead?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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You see, a conflict always begins with an issue – a difference of opinion, an argument. But by the time it turns into a war, the issue doesn’t matter anymore, because now it’s about one thing and one thing only: how much each side hates the other.

The Second Civil War was fought between the Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice. In the end, both sides were satisfied, but neither won. The Bill of Life was created, stating that “human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen .”

Wait, what?

…between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively “abort” a child on the condition that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end.

“Unwinding” is what that process is called. When a child is unwound, every part – organs, hair, teeth, everything – is taken for transplants.

Unwind is the story of three such children – Connor, Risa, and Lev – and their fight to survive against the system that tries so hard to get rid of them.

Lev is a tithe. He comes from a devoutly religious family that has planned to unwind him his entire life. As a tithe, he’s grown up believing that he’s somehow special, somehow different from everybody else. Risa is a ward of the state, send to be unwound because of budget cuts. Risa is a talented pianist, but not talented enough to be permitted to live. Connor is a troubled teen. He’s gotten in a few fights and his parents just don’t know what to do with him anymore. Instead of trying to figure out how to help him, they sign the order to unwind him.

When Connor realizes that he’s going to be unwound, he runs away from home. In running away, he inadvertently causes a bus crash that helps Risa escape, and then grabs Lev out of the car that’s leading him to his own unwinding. The three of them have several misadventures while trying to avoid being arrested by the Juvey-cops who seek out AWOL unwinds.

I had a lot of trouble getting into this book. Something about the writing style threw me off, and I didn’t like that the perspective changed so frequently.

I also struggled with the premise. I can’t understand how the Bill of Life was accepted by either side. Abortion is prohibited, but it’s okay to kill teenagers? Even if they’re not “technically” dead (which, yes, they are), how is it socially acceptable to sentence your kid to unwinding just because you don’t like their choices? What kind of parents think, “Hey, Connor punched a kid again. Instead of talking to him about it, I think I’ll get rid of him.” I mean, seriously. How did this become socially acceptable? How is this legally acceptable? How did the Pro-Life side accept this? How did the Pro-Choice side accept this?

I did like Connor and Risa. I was more or less indifferent to Lev throughout. Connor grew to be a great leader, and I liked how Risa was able to help him channel his anger into survival skills. Risa was pretty great since she was able to adapt to every situation they got themselves into. It was nice to see a heroine who isn’t dependent on a boyfriend to get through tough times.

All in all, there was a lot going on in Unwind. I could go for some of it. Other parts just didn’t work for me. I’d give two stars for the beginning and four stars for the end, so it’ll even out to three. I wouldn’t consider Unwind to be a waste of my time, but I likely won’t be reading any of the books that follow it.

Final rating: