Challenger Deep Discussion Questions

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Use these discussion questions to help you upper middle and high school students process the characters, plot, and symbolism of 'Challenger Deep' by Neal Shusterman.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep is a fascinating exploration of the real and imagined worlds of Caden, a teenager facing severe mental illness. As he recovers, the reader follows his journey in both worlds. These discussion questions can help you guide students on their own journey of understanding the novel's characters, plot, and symbolism. You may choose to utilize these questions to stage a whole-class discussion or provide them to students for team discussion. Additionally, you may have students select one or more questions to craft a written response as a summative assessment. Consider extending the study of this book by exploring the perception of mental health in today's society.

Questions about Characters

  • Caden is a complex character that ultimately lives in two parallel universes--the one in his mind and the one that is real. How does his shift to the imagined world begin? How does it progress? How does it eventually come to an end?
  • Do you think Caden's imagined world will be a part of his story in the future as well? Why or why not?
  • What warning signs do Caden's parents see that alert them to his declining mental health? Do you agree with the actions they take to get him help? Why or why not?
  • What real-world character is the Captain based on? Explain how the imagined character of the Captain affects Caden's mental health.
  • As the antithesis of the Captain, the parrot represents Caden's psychiatrist. How does this character differ from the Captain? How does the parrot balance the Captain's control over Caden in his imagined and real worlds?
  • Callie is another patient at the hospital that Caden becomes close to during his time there. When she is released earlier than him, he takes it very hard. He never sees her again. How do you think this affects Caden both before and after his return home?
  • Carlyle is blamed for Hal's death and fired because of it. How does Caden feel about this character and the decision to end his employment?
  • Caden's roommate, Hal, kills himself. How does this decision affect Caden's recovery? What is the difference between Caden's mental health situation and life experience and Cal's?
  • Caden's parents are very supportive throughout his illness and recovery. How do you think their involvement helps Caden? Why do you think they are not a part of his imagined world?
  • Caden's sister offers him a balloon upon his return home. What do you think this balloon represents?
  • Shelby initially blames Caden's break with reality on drugs. How is mental health perceived in today's society? How can we do a better job of understanding mental illness?

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