Yet he is simultaneously working as the artist in residence on board a ship with the mission to explore the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep part of the Marinas trench.
Caden had no memory of volunteering for this, and is at a loss to explain how he can be in two places at once.
But he accepts it, and the reader is taken on his two concurrent journeys.
His ‘regular’ life takes a few turns for the worse – the normally brilliant student falters and fails tasks, he becomes distant from his friends and lies about being on the school track team, instead wandering the neighbourhood during the times he was supposedly training.
On board the ship, the captain’s demands become more ruthless, and Caden is enlisted to dive the depths of the trench. The captain’s parrot tries to secure Caden’s support for mutiny. But how can a ship survive without its captain? In turn, the captain orders that Caden kill the parrot. How can Caden choose sides? And how can he possibly dive down into the deepest trench in the ocean on his own?
In the uncharted depths of Challenger Deep, where no light reaches and the pressure would crush any land dwelling organism, there lies a treasure. Can Caden marshal the strength to go there? Does the treasure actually exist? This is a powerful metaphor for the personal hell of Caden’s mental illness, when his conflicting urges are pulling his psyche apart.
An estimated 10-20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, according to the World Health Organisation. This is one child’s experience with his demons, based on the deeply personal journey the award-winning author, Neal Shusterman, took with his own son. Although better known for his various fantasy trilogies, Shusterman handles this with sensitivity, wisdom and humour.
A captivating and satisfying read.
Title: Challenger Deep
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Walker Books, $18.99
Publication Date: 6 August 2020
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction