“Indeed, nothing awful is without its beautiful side”:
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
“The hiss of the sprinklers is not the sound of snakes. And the painted dolphins on [his] sister’s wall cannot plot deadly schemes. And a scarecrow’s eyes do not see.”
This is what Caden Bosch has to tell himself to try to stop himself from believing these thoughts that are haunting him.
For Caden, there are three different realities: The white plastic kitchen, the ship and the captain, and the world occupied by his friends and family. For him, each of these realities is as real as the other, and he doesn’t know where he is going to be at any given moment.
Caden says in the beginning of the novel:
“There are two things you know. One: You were there. Two: You couldn’t have been there.”
Even though he struggles with these two “truths,” often, he is unsure whether he imagines half of the things he hears people say.
Once, when Caden’s father was driving him and his sister, Mackenzie, his father had an “unusual freak-out moment.” His father was very nervous, and he kept saying that “something [was] wrong,” even though he couldn’t explain exactly what it was. Eventually, Caden spotted the rearview mirror that was at his feet next to his backpack. When he showed it to his father, his father was finally able to calm down. Caden remembers this moment because he wishes it were that easy for him to pinpoint exactly what it is that may be wrong with him.
It first starts when Caden thinks that there is a kid at school who “wants to kill him.” First he suspects this, and that is enough to convince him that it’s true. This thought scares him so much that he goes to his father and blurts out his worry. But when his father asks Caden for details, such as why he thinks the kid wants to kill him, Caden can’t explain. He is only able to tell his dad, “It’s not what he said, it’s what he hasn’t said.” The fact is, Caden doesn’t really know this kid because he doesn’t have any classes with him. It’s a kid Caden “pass[es] in the hallway sometimes.”
Soon, Caden has trouble eating and sleeping. He keeps having troubling thoughts, and even though he cannot explain why he is having these thoughts, he knows that they are just as real as his mother, father, and sister are. Caden says, “…I see things. Not so much see, but feel. Patterns of connection between the people I pass. Between the birds that swoop from the trees. There is meaning out there, if only I can find it.” It’s not that Caden wants to freak his little sister out, or make his parents worried about him. It’s just that he keeps moving from on reality to another, and he doesn’t know which one to believe.
The thing I liked the most about Challenger Deep was Caden Bosch’s voice. Right alongside Caden’s struggle with his inexplicable thoughts is Caden’s voice. As ironic as it sounds, even as Caden loses himself to these different “realities” throughout the novel, Caden maintains who he is at his core: an intelligent and witty individual.
Knowing that her brother is struggling, Caden’s younger sister Mackenzie tells him, “Remember when we used to make forts out of cardboard boxes on Christmas?” With a smile, Caden says, “Yeah. That was fun.” Mackenzie then says to him, “Those forts were so real, even though they weren’t, you know?”
Caden Bosch’s journey to his own Challenger Deep is awful for himself and his family, but it is not without its many beautiful sides.
Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.