Neal Shusterman’s ‘Challenger Deep’ Takes an Inside Look at Mental Illness [REVIEW]

Man in water

A brilliant young man undertakes the journey of a lifetime while battling mental illness in Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep. (Photo by Canon in 2D, Flickr)

Do you find it hard to understand friends, family, colleagues and others who suffer from a mental illness? Then you’ll want to read author Neal Shusterman’s powerful novel, Challenger Deep, which takes us on a life-affirming journey into the human psyche.

Neal Shusterman's CHALLENGER DEEP


Enter Caden Bosch, a young man living parallel lives: one as a brilliant high school student who is exhibiting increasingly odd behavior, another as an artist in residence aboard a ship that is headed for the deepest point on the planet: Challenger Deep, located at the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Torn by his two realities, Caden gets lost in the thoughts in his head, and they are threatening to tear him apart. Shusterman chronicles Caden’s journey with a sensitive, empathetic hand as his hero learns to cope with the wide spectrum of mental illness.

For Shusterman and his son Brendan, who illustrated the book, the novel has very personal roots. Based on Brendan’s own experiences as a teen, father and son felt it was important to start a conversation about how “everyone presents differently, and responds to meds differently, and no prognosis can truly be predicted.” (Watch the interview at the bottom of this page for more information.)

Think you don’t know anyone with a mental illness? Think again. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “one in 17—about 13.6 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.”  Thus it is understandable why this story continues to touch the lives of countless readers and has already received both the National Book Award and the Golden Kite Award.

Through it all, Caden’s journey sheds light on families suffering with a mental illness, and ultimately inspires hope that they too can come out the other side intact. Although this is a novel written for young adults, I encourage everyone to read this brilliant book. It will give you deeper insight into the emotions, pain and isolation people feel when their suffering is beyond their control.

If you’re a teacher, why not share this remarkable story with your class? You can download a discussion guide for the book here.

Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman


Neal Shusterman is a New York Times bestselling author, screenwriter and television writer. His work has received awards by the International Reading Association, the American Library Association, and a myriad of state and local organizations across the country.

He is also an award-winning film director, lyricist, songwriter and playwright. Now he is currently developing an original television series with his son Jarrod, and adapting Tesla’s Attic with co-writer Eric Elfman for TV as well.

With degrees in both psychology and drama from UC Irvine, Neal is a much sought-after public speaker. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and Mexico City, and currently lives in Southern California with his four children.

Visit his home on the Web at, like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

By Neal Shusterman and illustrated by Brendan Shusterman
320 pgs. HarperTeen. $17.99

About Heather Fink
Heather Fink is a writer, bibliophile and award-winning librarian who loves to introduce the next generation of readers to the wonderful world of books. She currently resides in Texas.

One Response to Neal Shusterman’s ‘Challenger Deep’ Takes an Inside Look at Mental Illness [REVIEW]

  1. Jathan Fink says:

    Reblogged this on Jadeworks Entertainment and commented:

    Sometimes a novel comes along that changes the way we see the world around us. Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep is one such book. It tells the very personal story about a young man learning to navigate mental illness, and what it is like inside a mind that is spiraling out of control. Our reviewer says this is a must read!

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