We are a nation of people that love to categorize. We’re competitive and love a good race and sometimes we apply that hierarchal need to things that it shouldn’t be applied to. Take fiction and poetry, which are inherently subjective forms of art and entertainment. What appeals to me may not appeal to you and vice versa. Because of that there are often debates about who was deserving of this award or that award. It happens every year with the Oscars and the Grammy’s. We’re often baffled as to how prolific actors whose careers have produced outrageously heartrending performances have never received an Academy Award. Many times there given the award for a throwaway performance like Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenent or Denzel Washington for Training Day. Neither of those performances on their face were worth the Oscar, but the actors deserved to be acknowledged. So, I wonder, do we do that with books?
The National Book Award is supposed to be given to the finest example of literature, and we’re speaking about Young People’s Literature, in a given year. And yet, I always disagree with the choice. Just because a work seems important doesn't mean it's good Click To Tweet, and when you read as many books as I do you can often find another book that has similar themes that was better. Are we giving big honors to authors who’ve got more visibility than others just because of their fame? This is, IMO, the case with Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman.
It follows a boy who begins to unravel mentally at his suburban high school, alternatively with the boy on a ship, unaware as to how he’s gotten there or why. It’s supposed to be whimsical and heartfelt, but I found it to be boring and a little dismissive of the real psychosis that I believe its meant to bring sympathy to. Now that’s not to say its not worth sharing. I think it’s good for middle grades kids who are looking to upgrade from Swiss Family Robinson to more modern and teen-centered reading, but to say that it’s the best of the year is a wild stretch.
If you’re looking for something adventurous, but heartfelt I would try instead, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. It follows a girl who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, a rare lung disease. She’s drowning in air and coughing up feathers and such. It’s all very odd. When the main character dies within the first few chapters (the funeral scene has my eyes welling up right now) she wakes up on an air ship as a bird. Supposedly, she had fallen from the ship as a hatchling and had only recently been found.
The book takes whimsy to the moon and back and features dialog and situations that feel more real than that of the world built in Challenger. So, am I wrong? Did you love Challenger? Let me know in the comments.