Fantasy becomes reality in an exploration of mental illness based partly on the experiences of the author's son, who is also the book’s illustrator.
For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth. In an internal reality that’s superimposed over Caden's real life—where his behavior slips from anxiety to hearing voices and compulsively obeying signage—an Ahab-like captain promises riches in exchange for allegiance, while his parrot urges mutiny for a chance at life ashore. Shusterman unmoors readers with his constant use of present tense and lack of transitions, but Caden's nautical hallucination-turned-subplot becomes clearer once his parents commit him to Seaview Hospital's psychiatric unit with its idiosyncratic crew of patients and staff. However, Caden's disorientation and others' unease also make the story chillingly real. Except in the heights of Caden's delusions, nothing is romanticized—just off-kilter enough to show how easily unreality acquires its own logic and wit. The illustrator, who has struggled with mental illness himself, charts the journey with abstract line drawings that convey Caden's illness as well as his insight. When the depths are revealed with a dream-logic twist and Caden chooses an allegiance, the sea becomes a fine metaphor for a mind: amorphous and tumultuous but ultimately navigable.
An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper understanding of the condition. (author's note) (Fiction. 14 & up)