Challenger Deep can be a little confusing at first, but it is worth it to keep reading, because at a certain point, you can NOT put this book down until you finish. The reader is in for a wild ride as he is immersed in story of Caden, a brilliant high school boy having a mental breakdown. Inspired by the author’s son, Brendan, the book is illustrated with drawings he made during his own battle with mental illness. In the book Caden goes back and forth between reality and an increasingly hallucinatory life on a strange ship headed for the deepest trench in the ocean to search for a treasure. As the book continues, characters from real life begin turning up on the ship and the reader is given a glimpse of what Caden is experiencing. A powerful look at a teen mind in the midst of crisis, Challenger Deep should be read widely by teens and those who care about them.
Here is an example of Brendan Shusterman’s artwork from The Art of Challenger Deep and what he has to say about it:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” —H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
The artwork presented above, I think, is an extension of that moment when it is unbearable, when the fear is so intense that you become a character in an H.P. Lovecraft story, descended into madness, sanity lost, and no hope left to cling to. You cannot express it accurately in words. You can come dangerously close, but the language for this sort of pain is hard to touch. It’s a descent into a depression so deep that the depression hardens like a diamond and becomes something else entirely. It warps itself into a more powerful entity, and then it grabs hold of you and it takes you out of it, flying upward with its bat-like wings into the higher echelons of your own mind. If you make it out, which you will, you’ll be stronger for it, but the descent and the climb are both as maddening as the artwork here suggests. This particular work inspired my dad to create the figurehead of the Captain’s ship. It’s a fitting place for “The Stars Are Right.” – Brendan Shusterman