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review 2018-07-03 11:25
4/5: Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman
Challenger Deep - Neal Shusterman

Caden Bosch is a normal fifteen year old. A little geeky, a good artist. He’s sarcastic and witty and fun to be around. But he’s falling apart. He thinks the kid at school, the one he passes in the corridor and doesn’t know, is going to kill him. His parents may not be who they say they are. He starts to hear voices that tell him to do things he doesn’t want to do…

This is a difficult book to rate. As a work of fiction, I would rate this quite low, perhaps 2/5. The story drags a little at times, and Caden’s relationships are muddy and ill-defined in places.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t a work of fiction, as Shusterman says in the notes at the end. This is a semi-fictional biography of his son and his declining mental health. I’ve never read a book on schizophrenia before, so there’s no baseline. There’s nothing to say, “Compared to ‘X’ this is better or worse.” I’m not an expert on how accurate it is, so I can’t rate it on that.

I misted up a few times while I was reading it. I also laughed out loud in others. But, my god, Caden’s parents – and by extension, Shusterman - must have felt so helpless. You can only cry with them, as powerless as they are as they watch their son dissolve.

Running alongside Caden’s story is a wider symbolic journey he’s taking on a sailing ship, crewed with representations of the people around him in the real world. He knows where he’s going – The Marianas Trench – but he doesn’t know how long it will take him, or why he’s on the ship in the first place. It’s a personal journey of discovery and revelation, of choices and friendships. No spoilers, but not everyone makes it – in the real world and on his journey. Sometimes people get lost on those oceans and never make landfall again.

Most terrifying of all is when Caden is at the depths of his illness. His journey and reality blur together, without transition or warning. It’s jarring enough that we as readers have to check again where we think he should be. He undergoes dissociation for a few chapters, referring to himself in the third person (“You look at your sister”, not “I look at my sister”). He is, in literal terms, out of his mind.

I didn’t know much beyond the barest layman’s knowledge of schizophrenia when I started this book. People hearing voices, I thought, and that was it. I didn’t know about the other symptoms: the growing paranoia, the mania, the dissociative personality. The closest I could come as an analogy would be the engine of Caden’s brain is red-lining at 4000 RPM and won’t slow down even if he could turn it off. I learned things from this story.

I have a feeling that this was made with slow and deliberate care, an intense desire to get it right. I wonder how many times Shusterman had to stop writing so he could stop crying. I certainly had to when I was reading it.

Neal Shusterman didn’t write this book for the reviews, or the money it’s making him. He wrote it because he had to, and he wrote it so it helps someone else understand.

And like the best of stories, it worked.

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review 2018-06-11 11:39
3/5. "Scythe" by Neal Shusterman
Scythe - Neal Shusterman

It’s so far in the future that humanity has stopped counting the years. Immortality has been perfected by a benevolent, omnipotent AI called “The Thunderhead”, who runs the planet with a quiet purpose. All of the wisdom and experiences of humanity are stored online. Any question and any moral problem can be solved instantly. All injuries – even jumping or falling from a great height – can be repaired in a few days.

The main problem with all this immortality is a simple one: Population control. The space program has literally crashed and burned and earth is all the room we have. Rather than enacting a policy of restricting childbirth, humanity comes to a different conclusion: Random, society-supported murders. But because murder is such a loaded word, these people are gleaned, picked from society and discarded. For the good of the many, the few have to die.

Most of those chosen to do this murd…gleaning – The Scythes - see it as a high calling, the ultimate public service. They go about their business as if in a holy order. They live as simply as monks, taking only what they need. They kill with compassion, granting the gleaned and their families’ dignity in death.

Then there are those that enjoy the kill, the ones who are nothing less than psychopathic in their slaughter. These are the ones who consider themselves Nietzschean Ubermensch, supermen above normal men.

And the amount of killing is extraordinary: Scythes are required to kill five people a week on average, year in and year out – for eternity. All of the Scythes find different ways to live with themselves for what is nothing more than an endless parade of murder. Pulled into this world are Rowan and Citra, teenagers who caught the attention of the Scythe Faraday and are taken as his apprentices.

I made a major mistake before I started this book: I went and looked at the sequel. There, in the first sentence of the teaser, is the basic plot for this one. (Note to future self: DO NOT DO THIS.) Also, some things early on bounced me out of the story, and I found it hard to settle back in to it for a few hundred pages.

An example: Rowan is holding the hand of a character about to be gleaned. The gleaning character is fibrillated with a massive electric shock, killing them instantly. Rowan is thrown across the room. It’s a minor point, but electrocuted muscles grip, they don’t unlock. He should be as dead as the gleaned. And we’re told again and again that the repairing nanites in everyone’s bloodstream get to work immediately on any injury. Wouldn’t they restart the gleaned characters heart?

It bugged me, and bounced me out of the story for a long time. I kept looking for other errors in the world Shusterman creates. I found it hard to believe, for instance, that humanity has lost all of its curiosity and any sense of adventure, enough that they can’t be bothered with a space program after it failed. Really? An all-knowing AI that can’t work out a space program? A group of guys (and women) did it with pen and paper in the 1960s. And I believe curiosity is hard wired into us as much as the ability to judge distances.

Secondary to that was the fact that the Rowan and Citra were so damn boring and two dimensional. At an early instance, we’re told about Citra’s quick temper, not shown it. The two of them had no chemistry, and didn’t even fight with each other particularly well. They are supposed to have bonded and fallen in love, but there wasn’t a spark between them, of love or hate. They are only surfaces everyone else reflects from. There was little inner life or conflict going on.

So for the first two hundred pages or so, I was reading with no sense of narrative tension. I knew how it was going to come out, after all. No surprises…until there was a sudden screaming right turn and the story shot off into an entirely new direction.

Suddenly it started to get more interesting. Rowan and Citra are split up: Rowan is sent to the brutal psychopath Goddard and Citra studies under another legendary scythe named Curie. Their training takes very different paths and they split until the climax of the story.

And the reason is got more interesting is because in some ways, Rowan and Citra aren’t the central characters in the story anymore. I was much more interested in Scythe Curie, Apprentice Volta and Scythe Goddard. In fact, every character in the story is better developed than Rowan and Citra. Even the people being gleaned were more interesting.

Despite the minor early niggles and poor main characters, Shusterman creates for the most part an entirely logical world that you know would work. It’s a very different world and morality from ours, this post-AI place, but you know it would work.

I don't usually comment on book covers, but the first edition paperback one is great. I love the 1930s red and cream feel of it, like a World War Two propaganda poster.

Humanity is supposed to have put aside its squabbles over politics, but it’s very much alive in the meetings of the Scythes. State sponsored psychopaths are free to murder or save who they choose (and take their mansions) with impunity, as they once did in Nazi Germany.

Most disturbing is watching Rowan’s humanity being destroyed by his brainwashing under Goddard, until little of him remains. How thin that thread of compassion is and how easily we can allow it to snap.

Humanity has moved on, but it still seems it has a dark heart, and a long way to go.

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review 2018-05-19 20:43
** spoiler alert **
Thunderhead - Neal Shusterman
 I would give this more stars if I could...





When Scythe Curie gleaned herself though,
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review 2018-05-19 20:43
** spoiler alert **
Thunderhead - Neal Shusterman

I would give this more stars if I could...





When Scythe Curie gleaned herself though, :'(. 
I don’t even have words to explain how I’m feeling right now, the ending killed me inside and I feel for Faraday and Citra when they hear of what happened to Curie...also I can’t wait to see Goddard punished for what he has done

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review 2018-05-06 20:56
Scythe - Neal Shusterman

Definitely my favorite book I've read in 2017... Can't wait for Thunderhead!!!


UPDATE:

Still my favorite book. I loved this as much as I did reading in the fist time. If you haven't read this yet, read it. It is such an amazing book, with amazing writing! :D

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