The Voice of a Struggling Soul

Source: Shusterman, Neal, and Brendan Shusterman. Challenger Deep. HarperTeen, New York, NY, 2015.


The things I feel cannot be put into words, or if they can, the words are in no language anyone can understand. My emotion are talking in tongues. Joy spins into anger spins into fear then into amused irony, like leaping from a plane, arms wide, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can fly, then discovering you can’t, and not only don’t you have a parachute, but you don’t have any clothes on, and the people below all have binoculars and are laughing as you plummet to a highly embarrassing doom. (Chapter 5)


There are many stylistic choices happening in this particular passage, but first, for a chapter’s opening, it is quite intense. At the moment we start reading this chapter, we are thrown into a well of a strange, deep well of emotions. The uses of imagery is overwhelming, making us feel with the narrator the uncomfortable feeling of insecurity, of “a highly embarrassing doom.” “Joy spins into anger spins into fear then into amused irony,” the repetition of “spins” and “into” and the lack of coordinating conjunctions rush the narrator’s intense feeling into our minds while allowing us to admire the beautifully playful way to mess around with grammar. 

However, all of these would not make sense without understanding the context. If you think that the narrator’s feeling is not “mentally” normal, then you should be proud of your perceptive reading: the whole story, Challenger Deep, is indeed about a boy (“I”) who struggles with mental illness. Yet, things get even more interesting when we learn that the author, Neal Shusterman, writes the story through the perspective of his son. In other words, even though the story is written in first person, it is not about the real author. It is fascinating to see how Shusterman possesses a different persona just to write this novel, not to say that his persona, a person with mental illness, is quite a hard role to fully get into. Knowing this transform the way we see the story rapidly, allowing us to see how writers can be directors and actors at the same time and how writing is their silent performances.  

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