BOOK REVIEW ✨ Challenger Deep

Welcome aboard, my friends. You’re about to enter this whirlwind review of emotions and deep thoughts. 

I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve posted a review, and I have plenty of other books I could be reviewing right now… but this one is my most recently finished, and I’m itching to share the review with you all!


From Goodreads:

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 behavior.

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.

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mental Illness

Published: 2015

Content warnings: schizophrenia, talk of suicide, bullying, multiple discussions of trauma

My Thoughts: 

I would like to begin this review by saying two things:

  1. This is a reread review. When I was younger, I used to give all of my favorite books 5 stars because I loved them, but also because I hadn’t read many books in general, other than my favorites. This one remains one of my favorites, and is the only 5 star review on this blog so far because of my history with it. But just because I love it, does not mean that you will!
  2. Challenger Deep includes subjects which may not be for everyone. It can be difficult to read at times. Sometimes the story is slow or confusing, but the story is meant to be that way.

This is one of those books which, unfortunately, requires you to understand the premise before reading, I’ve seen several negative reviews for this book, but a lot of them are due to the reviewers being confused for much of the book. Hopefully I can explain a little of this! 

little anecdote about this book

When I found out about this book several years ago, it was because my school library had put up posters about it all over the place. 

Back in the good old days of 2015, Challenger Deep won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Libraries (at least, in my area) were advertising it well and whenever they could, and because of this, there were at least three posters of the book in my school library alone. 

These posters intrigued me. “What is this book about?” I asked myself. “Why does it look like he’s drowning in water on a string? Why are all of the librarians obsessed with this book, when no one I know has read it?” 


I later looked up reviews on Goodreads. From these reviews, I learned something that the synopsis didn’t convey. Challenger Deep is a story about schizophrenia. 

This piece of vital information may be what keeps you from turning this book away. I won’t go into any more detail than that, but I believe knowing this part of the story is crucial to how one understands why the story unfolds the way it does. 

on to the review

Challenger Deep is told in an unusual way: the story unfolds through short, alternating chapters conveying the main character as both a regular teenage boy and a pirate on a ship. While this may seem strange to some people, this may have been one of the reasons why I loved it. 

I can see why some people might have been confused while reading this book for the first time, but when I look back on my past experience, I don’t remember ever being out of the loop. This is why I gave that small bit of info in the beginning! You’re going to need it. Safe travels. 

While the unique alternating realities are special, I also love that this story itself just feels so touching, heart-breakingly raw, and wildly separate from reality at the same time. There are certain scenes in this book which may seem crazy and unrealistic, but… if you keep on reading, everything will eventually fall into place. You’ll begin to understand all of the strange happenings, and why Caden sees the world in the way that he does.
And if you’re still confused in the beginning… I suggest you wait until chapters 75-84. That’s when everything will start to click! (there are actually 161 chapters in the book, and they’re anywhere between 1 and 12 pages long.)

I’m usually hesitant about reading/talking about mental illness-related books, since some of them are not told by people who have experienced the mental illness themselves. However, Challenger Deep was heavily inspired by Neal Shusterman’s son, and his experiences with schizophrenia. Knowing this also helped me to understand the severity of this story, and how real it can be for some people. 

Of course, everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. But unfortunately, in today’s world, a lot of people have no idea what to think about many mental illnesses. I’m ashamed that I grew up thinking schizophrenia was synonymous with “multiple personality disorder” (which is now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). For some reason, the media often portrayed mental illnesses however they wanted and in a simplified manner, so that people like me were often sheltered from discovering what it was actually like to have those illnesses. While the media seems to have gotten better with the way this is handled, it’s still not good enough, and not much better at all. 

The fear of not living is a deep, abiding dread of watching your own potential decompose into irredeemable disappointment when “should be” gets crushed by what is. Sometimes I think it would be easier to die than to face that, because “what could have been” is much more highly regarded than “what should have been”. Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.

Reading this book several years ago, and even now during this reread, opened my eyes to the struggles others endure in their every-day lives. It’s heartbreaking that many mental illnesses are often dismissed because they’re not as common as anxiety or depression, but books like Challenger Deep are important because they highlight some aspects of mental health which would otherwise not be shared. 

Generally, I was riveted while reading this book. Even though I already knew how it was going to end, I still enjoyed the ride and sat at the edge of my seat. This book is very character/emotion driven, and if you’re more of an action/plot person, this book may not be for you. Challenger Deep is more about personal discoveries and emotional acceptance than anything else. 

I would like to say, though, that the plot could have been possibly a bit better, and the ending could have been a tiny bit slower. But did I cry? Yes, of course. Did I love it? Still, yes. 

My Rating: 

While I think it deserves something more like 4.5 stars, I already marked it as “5 Stars” on my Goodreads and I’m feeling generous/nostalgic today, so… 5 Stars it is!  


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Have you read this book? What did you think? Was my review convincing, or was it just confusing? (i honestly don’t even know)

Chat with me about it!

You can also be my friend on Goodreads! 📚

Happy reading, everyone! 🙂

Starry Sky Books-13



17 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW ✨ Challenger Deep

  1. I’ve never read this book but I’ve seen it quite a bit! I enjoyed his other book, Scythe, so I might have to give this a try! I sadly haven’t read enough books portraying mental illness well and I think I ought to check this out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful and thorough review! I love Neal Shusterman and have been working my way slowly through his backlist up to the present, and have almost bought this one a few times on Book Outlet.

    I can definitely see why the bit about schizophrenia would be important to contextualize the story. It’s a shame that information is left out, especially because books with good mental health representation are few and far between. I am looking forward to reading this one down the road, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Kal! 😊 I hope you read this one eventually, and I can’t wait to see what you think if you do.

      I think the schizophrenia aspect of this book is implied from early on, but for anyone with very little knowledge of mental illness, it might be fairly difficult to understand. Other than that, I have heard that the representation is good and accurate!


  3. Incredible review, Xandra! ❤ Neal Shusterman is one of my absolute favorite authors, and I have been wanting to read it for years! It's so nice to see a book out there that isn't afraid to talk about mental illnesses, and that sheds some light on how difficult living with schizophrenia can be. I wasn't aware that some of the protagonist's traits in this book reflects those of Neal's son, so that is certainly very interesting to hear about! I'm really glad this was such a riveting read for you! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful review, Xandra! I had never heard of this book but I’m immediately adding it to the very top of my TBR. It sounds so up my alley & I can’t wait to read it. It has to be good to be your only 5 stars, wow! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just finished this book and I think that it is 5 stars out of 5. WARNING: It may be challenging for some readers as this blog mentions! This book was so touching and it made me cry a bit. I recommend constantly reading books about mental illness because although they might not have been written by those who have had it, they are still very important. Try reading other books too!


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