Author: Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Antsy Bonano can’t remember the first time he met Calvin Schwa, known to one and all as “The Schwa”. But then most folks can’t; the Schwa’s just like that. You can be right next to him and forget he’s even there . . . sort of like he chameleon’s into the surroundings. And he’s hard to even think about for long, your thoughts just sort of wander off to other things. The Schwa has been aware of this circumstance–something Antsy refers to as being “functionally invisible” or “The Schwa Effect”–for most of his life, but it’s only when Antsy notices him enough to actually pay attention that someone finds a way to capitalize on this phenomenon. The two quickly become partners, raking in money from jobs and dares. But even in the midst of his newfound popularity, the Schwa still worries what will happen if his deepest fears come true and he’s forgotten altogether . . . a fear that seems less unlikely the longer Antsy knows him.
Neal Shusterman’s novels are always exceptional and original, and The Schwa Was Here is no exception. This is a delightful middle grade/high school contemporary novel that slips comfortably into the realm of the tall tale, similar to how Louis Sachar and Daniel Pinkwater’s stories tend to. The characters are robust and interesting, and as long as you accept the premise of “The Schwa Effect” the story is absolutely fascinating. It makes you take a slightly different look at daily life and the people around you. Plus there’s that element of mystery scattered throughout. The story ranges from enigmatic to funny, commonplace to philosophical in an instant, examining a variety of situations and relationships and surprising the reader in wonderful ways. Plus, the whole tale is told in Antsy’s delightful Brooklyn tone–his voice is really fun to read. And I love the way he sometimes wanders off topic, clearly illustrating his point about how forgettable the Schwa really is. I would highly recommend The Schwa Was Here to basically anyone, but especially to those who enjoy a fresh, fun look at middle grade stories.
Note: The Schwa Was Here is connected to Shusterman’s Antsy Does Time—technically it precedes Antsy Does Time–but it’s totally ok to read them in either order. No major spoilers or plot problems either way.