Author: Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5
“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.” (I’m using the Goodreads summary here, because it’s perfect and I don’t want to change anything.)
I was absolutely blown away by Challenger Deep. I mean, I always enjoy Neal Shusterman’s writing, but this particular volume is something special even for him. It clearly comes from a very personal place, as he mentions in the afterword that a lot of the ideas come from his son’s own experiences with mental illness. And that personal connection really shows, inviting the reader into the world as it appears to someone struggling with a brain chemistry that isn’t working normally. I still can’t say I understand . . . I don’t think anyone who hasn’t actually lived there can really understand. But I can definitely be more accepting and willing to try to understand for having read this book (which is really helpful since I’m dealing with mental illness of a different sort with my Grandfather who has Alzheimer’s). I loved the was Shusterman wove together Caden’s “real world” experiences with life on the “ship” on its way to Challenger Deep. As you go, it becomes more and more clear that the “ship” is just another way in which he sees the world, you begin to see parallels between actually people, events, and choices. But because it’s presented in that way, you get this additional, interesting story that not only increases the reader’s understanding but is also really engaging in its own surreal sort of way. The writing, in Caden’s first-person view, is brilliant and easy to read in a strange, surreal way, even though the events are constantly flipping between “realities” sometimes even within the chapter. A nice plus also is that the chapters are really short, so it feels like a quicker read–and it’s easy to read a chapter or two between other things, even if you don’t have much time. I think I would highly recommend Challenger Deep to anyone, and particularly to anyone who has someone in their life who is dealing with mental illness.
Author: Kevin Crossley-Holland
As a medieval land-girl, Gatty has spent her entire life spent tied to her feudal lord’s lands–not that she hasn’t enjoyed herself in her impish way, spending her free time with her best friend Arthur, the lord’s son, and generally getting into things. But now that Arthur’s gone off on crusade and her last remaining family member, her father, has died, Gatty is at a bit of a loss. Unexpectedly, her lady steps in and decides to send Gatty off to her friend, Lady Gwyneth, who is preparing to leave on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So, off Gatty goes on the journey of her life, meeting people, seeing places, and learning more than she ever realized there was to know, certain to return to England a changed girl . . . if she ever makes it back at all.
Crossing to Paradise is what historical novels should be: overflowing with memorable characters, moving plot, and seamless historical detail. Gatty herself is incredible–daring, impetuous, stubborn, and quick-tongued–and seeing the growth and development in her over the journey is a beautiful and moving thing. The other pilgrims who journey with her are also full of personality, and each adds something important to the story. In a sense, the plot is simple enough–it’s a classic tale of a pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem and back, detailing the daily struggles and wonders of such a trip–yet Crossley-Holland’s execution of the plot is wondrous, using small daily events and large happenings alike to mold his characters. I really appreciate (or honestly fail to truly appreciate in full) the wealth of historical details that are woven into the story without being obvious or unwieldy at all–and not just details of happenings but also of perspectives and ideologies. Crossing to Paradise is a beautiful story that I would greatly recommend.
Author: L. A. Meyer
Tired of begging, stealing, and scrounging for enough food to survive on the streets of early nineteenth-century London, Mary Faber decides she’s had enough. So she signs on to the crew of the good ship HMS Dolphin–as a ship’s boy! Her good nature and good luck stand her in good stead–along with a few skills like reading and sewing that she learned before her family died and she was cast onto the streets. Rather, she excels a bit too much, particularly with her own natural fondness for being in the center of things. Such attention is not beneficial when you’re trying to deceive everyone into believing you’re a boy. Still, Mary–who goes by the name of Jacky now–succeeds in keeping her gender a secret, a true challenge in cramped quarters while undergoing puberty. Even harder when also falling in love with someone in those cramped quarters!
Bloody Jack is just what a historical novel ought to be. It provides a good feel for the time period and location, but doesn’t harp on details unnecessarily. Rather, it lets the characters (who are beautiful creations) get on with it and show the setting in the way they live. I love the first-person storytelling, which portrays Jacky’s character strongly; the accent and vocabulary are definitely present but not distracting–and the author even goes to the extent of pointing out that the accent’s stronger when Jacky’s upset and then showing that, but very subtly. Very artfully done. The plot is fairly basic–what would logically happen if a girl disguised herself as a ship’s boy in this time period–but the characters are so beautifully written that they carry this plot far beyond its humble beginnings. Jacky in particular is intriguing in her normalcy: she is cowardly, street-smart but common, lucky but unnecessarily fond of attention, always seeking the smoothest road, yet somehow charming in spite of her faults. I would definitely recommend Bloody Jack to anyone who likes a good historical story, although I would warn that it’s somewhat PG13 in places.