Genre: Depression & Mental Illness

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil Shusterman

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperCollins on April 21st 2015
Genres: Boys & Men, Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-stars

A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman. Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence to document the journey with images. Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. Caden Bosch is torn. Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today's most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep "a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary."

**Thank you, Heather Doss, for this ARC! This in no way affected my honest review of the book.

Illuminations:

Challenger Deep is unlike any book I’ve read before about mental illness. Granted, I haven’t read many young adult novels about this topic, but of the books I’ve read in the recent past, this one stands out as being unique. If I had to describe this book in one word while I was reading it, it would probably be “weird.” The style is totally different than what I normally read. At times I was confused, and it took me a long time to read a book that really wasn’t that long. For some reason, I just had a hard time picking the book back up and finishing it.

Challenger Deep is a place—it’s the lowest point on Earth, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. In one “reality” of the book, the MC (Caden) is on a ship, traveling to that point—Challenger Deep. The story revolves around Caden making that journey—and it’s the symbolic nature of that journey that is important to the overall plot.

I think you need to pay attention when you read this book, as it switches between the MC’s real world and the world of the ship. In this way, it has a touch of magical realism, but sometimes I had to go back and see what “world” I was in. At the beginning I was definitely confused, but when considering that the book is meant to give us a deeper perspective into the life of a character who is struggling with mental illness, well, it seems that a little confusion is understandable.

The chapters are short and titled and this choice I think reflects something about the thought patterns of the MC. At least that’s one way to interpret the narrative structure.

Who Should Read This Book:

Shusterman’s new book from Harper Collins is an important story—it illuminates a very real issue in the lives of teens—that of mental illness. The creative way the author does this (along with his son’s art) makes the content and themes even more meaningful. The glimpses of the MC on the ship give the reader a special perspective on what it’s like to live with mental illness.

Librarians and teachers especially should be aware of this title as they can recommend it to readers looking for fiction about the topic.

The Final Illumination:

I think I’m in the minority here because quite a few readers seemed to really enjoy this book—or at least, it worked for them. I’m disappointed that this one just didn’t work for me, though I love Shusterman’s work and think he’s a fabulous writer. I do appreciate the way the author represented mental illness, but it took me so long to finish the book and get into it.  I had high expectations for this book, but as it turned out, it’s not a favorite.

three-stars
What Katie Read

Review: Belzhar (2014) by Meg Wolitzer

Review: Belzhar (2014) by Meg WolitzerBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Published by Penguin on September 30th 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Depression & Mental Illness, Fantasy, Girls & Women, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 14 and up

The Book: Jam has been sent away from home. She now temporarily lives at a boarding school known as The Wooden Barn, with other “troubled” teens. She is having trouble getting over the death of her boyfriend, Reeve, and her parents are desperate for her to get back to normal. So off she goes to rural Vermont, and though she doesn’t want to be there, at first, she is signed up for an invite only class known as Special Topics in English. The class turns out to be focused on Sylvia Plath, and each student receives a special journal in which they share their thoughts. What Jam quickly finds out is that the journal possesses a magical ability to transport her to a past where Reeve is still alive. What other secrets does this strange world of Belzhar hold and will it help her come to terms with Reeve’s absence?

Spirituality in Belzhar: Working through your issues. We all know what that’s like—in one way or another. This notion of being broken after losing a person is an aspect of the story that some readers could relate to, and there’s a spiritual element to the story here. Grief is natural, and people work through grief in different ways. Journaling as a therapeutic technique for Jam and her peers is explored in the story, and this made me think about how we can reveal more of ourselves through our creative output—whether that is through writing, artwork, dance, or music. Belzhar definitely made me think, and I’m fascinated by the wide range of responses this book attracted!

Who Should Read This Book: I haven’t read anything else of Wolitzer’s but after I heard her speak at the Boston Book Festival, I requested this book from the library. Now I’m planning to read some of her other fiction, and I know she is well-known for her adult literary fiction. If you’re looking for something a bit different, this may be a book for you—the premise was unique to me, and I really had no idea how things were going to turn out with Jam and Reeve and Belzhar. You’ll see from GoodReads that some readers really didn’t like this book for its lack of character development and neatly tied up ending. It may not be for everyone, but the premise and the situation Jam was going through were really interesting to me. I enjoyed it. It was a story I couldn’t put down, and though there were some eye rolling moments with Jam’s character, there were some issues that came up that I think would be relevant for teen readers.

The Final Word: Belzhar is a mysterious place, which intrigued me, and I loved the discussion of Plath and her works. Though the twist in the story may or may not work for you, I think this book is worth picking up.

 

 

four-stars
What Katie Read

The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse AndersonThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Penguin on January 7th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads
three-half-stars

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Suggested age range: 13 and up

The Book: Navigating the halls of high school and taking care of a father suffering from PTSD after military time in the Middle East: this is what Haley Kincain is facing at the beginning of Anderson’s new book. Often in detention, Haley is depicted as a typical teenager who doesn’t want to be in school, and is cynical of adults and their attempts to be involved in her life. Can Haley handle the weight of her father’s PTSD and his tendency to drink on her own? When a boy at her school asks for her help with the “newspaper,” she at first refuses, but his persistence eventually results in a new friend. Intense at times, the narrative flashes back to Andy’s experiences in combat, providing a deeper glimpse into the source of his present condition in the story. Though it may seem as if the book is heading down a dark tunnel at first, this story does promise some light at its end.

Spirituality in Impossible Knife: The story highlights the importance of looking beneath the surface of appearances—a person may seem disrespectful, rebellious, and just downright cynical, but sometimes, there is hidden hurt responsible for this. I really didn’t like Haley at first, but she grew on me as the story progressed and I learned reasons why she acted the way she did. Her interactions with some of the adults in the story also reminded me that though we respond with kindness to those who are hurting underneath a façade, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will respond with vulnerability right away. It is persistent kindness and sensitivity that just might be the answer.

Who Should Read This Book: This is an important book, for both young adult and adult readers. Young adults with parents like Andy, might especially appreciate the book. Certainly, it’s an intense read, but it illuminates aspects of a condition that, in many ways, is still misunderstood. Additionally, the book shows how Haley’s dad’s PTSD affects his family and friends. Finally, if you enjoy Anderson’s other books, you should check it out. Whether you like it as much as her other books or not, I know I always enjoy comparing books by my favorite authors.

The Final Word: Though it was difficult for me to connect with Haley at many points in the book, I could still appreciate the way Anderson sensitively treats the issue of PTSD and traces its effects in those around the person suffering from it. I will say that Haley grew on me as the book progressed, and I especially liked the conclusion, but wished some of what transpires in the conclusion had began earlier. I adore Anderson’s work, but I didn’t like this book as much as some of her other work, like Speak, Chains, and Forge.

three-half-stars
What Katie Read
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