Neal Shusterman explains in the author’s note that his son “journeyed to the deep” of mental illness and that this book tries to “capture what that descent was like.” In doing so, Shusterman has given teens and adults alike the opportunity to travel to the abyss with them through the main character, Caden. This high-schooler starts having more and more moments that are not quite right, moments he is fairly sure aren’t reality but still seem to make sense in his mind. It’s not for a while that his family and others realize he needs professional help, landing him in a psychiatric hospital for teens. There, he spends weeks under the care of a doctor and therapists, reality blending with the delusion that he’s on a ship traveling to “Challenger Deep,” where he must somehow reach the bottom of a seven-mile-deep trench. Readers are in Caden’s mind with him yet still can see the progress he makes as drug combinations are adjusted and readjusted to find a good mix to help him return to reality. The book is powerful, the symbols of Caden’s delusions and their meanings all deceptively simply spun into a tale within a tale and wrapped up perfectly in the end. This book could have foundered in less skilled hands, but Shusterman has the chops to make this brilliant.
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