Aug 15, 2018

Challenger Deep

by Neal Shusterman

I am tired. I am probably not going to do this book justice, but I actually finished it two days ago, and need to say something. It's a story about mental illness. A teen who suffers from schizophrenia. He has feelings of paranoia and confusion about what's really going on- half the time living in his own head, an elaborate inner world which increasingly overlaps with reality. Gradually relationships with his family and friends erode, until finally his parents make the tough decision to commit him to a mental hospital. I thought this book was really well done. The depiction of the inner universe the kid often inhabited was fascinating- he thinks he's on an oceangoing ship (that usually gets nowhere), peopled by a half-mad captain, a talking parrot and variety of nameless crew members (all full of suspicions and delusions of their own). Things there get stranger and stranger (some parts reminded me of Kafka's writings) while he struggles to keep a grip on reality, to discern between one world and the other. The dialog and wordplay is wonderful, the narrative often very sad, but also full of hope. He has snarky conversations with his therapist, struggles through the effects of different medications, makes a few friends among other patients and staff, and finally emerges at the end- not completely better, but definitely more in control.

The book brought to mind one I had read long ago- I Never Promised You a Rose Garden- aptly enough, as they're both about a teenage schizophrenic. I think it was the convincing elaborateness of the inner world that reminded and intrigued me.

The one thing I did not like about the book was the artwork. In the story, the main character designs computer game characters with his friends, who proclaim him "a great artist" and the loose line scribbles did not at all seem to represent the kind of art I imagined. Then I read the afterword: the drawings were made by the author's son, who himself had a mental illness. I immediately felt ashamed of my criticism.

Rating: 4/5            308 pages, 2015

more reviews:
Shelf Love
Dark Faerie Tales
who else?

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