For the record, I fully intended to write a more traditional review of Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, which hits bookstores and shelves tomorrow. It has been a few weeks since I finished the digital review copy (DRC) that I specifically joined Eidelweiss to get after Shusterman visited my two junior high schools and read excerpts to us. And although I have often found myself thinking about the novel, I know that I am very bad on remembering things like names and spellings–the kinds of things you need to get right when writing a review.
Fortunately for me, as I sat down after dinner, I found that the DRC still exists and “plays” on my tablet. I began to read and to get sucked into this compelling story all over again. I began making connections–ones I don’t know that I fully made before–because I was now reading the beginning of the book when I already knew about what happens in the middle and at the end. I imagine that if I had an actual paper copy of the book (which I still prefer to an e-book), I would be flipping back and forth to check and double-check, to read and re-read–almost reconstructing the order of the book as I was reading it. But I don’t have that paper copy…yet. I am now 88 out of 365 pages in (e-books pages, anyway), and it looks like this book has staked a claim on the rest of my evening, and probably night, too. But before I go and read some more, just a few more words about Challenger Deep.
I saw a professional review that says Neal Shusterman “returns to realistic fiction” with this novel, and I would not say I find that entirely accurate. At the teacher workshop during his visit, Shusterman was asked about genre, and he said he considered himself a genre-buster. Challenger Deep is a genre-busting book. The reader “knows” that “real-world” Caden is spiraling down the path to mental illness…after a while. The beginning recounts Caden’s first encounters with the Captain, his ship, and his crew–the setting and situation which make up one of the intertwining parts of the book. To Caden it is all real; to the reader, it is a fantasy world where parrots and figureheads speak and there is something not quite right about the navigator and the crow’s nest cocktails. And then there is the terror of the white kitchen in Caden’s dreams, which also haunts him while he is awake. And then there is the Caden who leaves home for a medical facility, giving the reader a, yes, realistic view of what it might be like to be a teen grappling with mental illness. Genre-busting.
Challenger Deep features the most beautiful language of all of Shusterman’s books, indeed, some of the most beautiful I have read in a long time. The author says that he considers this to be “one of the most important books of [his] career” and the most personal. It is his son, Brendan, who inspired the book and allowed his drawings to become Caden’s. I could tell you a few of my favorite lines, this time around anyway, but I am not sure they would work out of context, nor am I sure that they would be the ones that would touch you the most. The Reader-Response-critic in me wants to let you experience it for yourself and to find your own meaning and your own beauty in it. In order to do that, of course, you will need to buy or borrow (as soon as possible, probably tomorrow) a copy of the book (I suggest a tangible one) and begin your own journey with Challenger Deep. As for me, I have 277 more (e-book) pages to finish tonight.