Caden Bosch was a really nice, really smart guy, but mental illness took quite a toll on his life and his relationships. To readers, it was immediately evident that Caden had split from reality because he alternated between life in the “real world” and a journey on a pirate ship. To his family and friends, though, it simply appeared that Caden was becoming more distant and acting strangely. How so? One perfect example is the fact that his family thought Caden was on the track team. While he did, in fact, intend to go out for the track team, he ended up quitting after only a few practices. So, why did they think he was still on the team? Because he would be gone for hours at a time and returned with worn shoes and sore feet. Instead of attending track practices, though, he was walking around town for hours on end, utterly absorbed by his own thoughts. Aside from the walking, Caden’s mental break was also evident in his art work. As a gifted artist, he began to struggle with the fact that he could no longer create artwork simply because he felt like it but, rather, because he felt that he HAD to get the images out of his head. How awful that must have been!
This book was amazingly well-written. Though confusing at times, the pacing and structure were very clearly intentional. And by the end, it was also clear that the “real world” had inspired the delusions Caden experienced. As someone who has had plenty of personal experiences with depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts, I still had no concept of what life might be like for someone living through the delusions and hallucinations associated with schizophrenia until I listened to this story. One important clarification, by the way, is that although this story was inspired by the mental health challenges and experiences of Shusterman’s own son, Brendan, it was by no means intended to be a memoir. Fans of Shusterman’s Unwind dystology (dystopian series) will be pleased to see that this departure from his standard writing style still contained plenty of humor and adventure.