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The Schwa Was Here
Neal Shusterman

Publishing Information: Dutton Children's Books: New York, 2004
ISBN: 0525471820 / 0142405779 (PB)
: 228 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

At first the Schwa, a boy who always seems to "disappear" into his surroundings, thinks it would be cool to have his friends experiment with him, but then he finally tires of it and wants people to "see" him and learn about him as a person.

Book Talk:
Have you ever wished you could walk into a room and nobody would see you? What would your life be like if everyone thought you were invisible? That is exactly the life that the Schwa has to live. If you like comedy and experiments, then you will like this book.

"Like the tree falling the forest," says Ira.
"You know, it's the old question - if a tree falls in a forest and no one's there to hear it, does it really make a sound?"
Howie considers this.  "Is it a pine forest, or oak?" 
"What's the difference?"
"Oak is a much denser wood; it's more likely to be heard by someone on the freeway next to the forest where no one is." (pages 21-22)

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Brooklyn, New York City
Practical Jokes
Science Experiments
The Schwa in the English Language

Awards & Reviews:
ALA Notable Children's Books, 2005
Boston Globe-HornBook Award (Fiction), 2005
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2005

Gr. 6-9. When Anthony "Antsy" Bonano and his friends meet Calvin Schwa, they are impressed and puzzled by his ability to appear and disappear before their very eyes. Antsy concocts a moneymaking scheme based on the Schwa's invisibility that seems promising until he and his friends overreach and are caught by the town's legendary mean millionaire, Mr. Crawley. Their resulting community service project--walking the 7 virtues and 7 vices (Crawley's 14 afghan hounds) and going out with Crawley's granddaughter Lexie--cements and ultimately challenges friendships. The humor is just right for boys, but the complexity of plot, the depth and richness of the characters, and the underlying seriousness of the issues belies the easy-to-read comedy. Schwa is an average kid who hangs on the periphery of the crowd and longs to be noticed and included, not simply ignored. His character is extreme, but far too many adolescents--and the adults who work with them--will sadly and guiltily recognize him. Frances Bradburn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
, December 2004, p. 648

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004

Grade 7-10 - Eighth-grader "Antsy" Bonano recounts how his accidental relationship with three quirky characters winds up being mutually beneficial. The catalyst in this social collision is Calvin Schwa, a classmate who has an almost supernatural knack for going completely unnoticed. When Antsy decides to become an "agent" for the "nearly invisible" Schwa by entertaining wagers on what he can get away with by being able to fly almost entirely beneath the social radar, the boys enjoy temporary success until they accept a dare requiring "The Schwa" to enter the home of a legendary local eccentric and retrieve a dog bowl belonging to any one of his 14 Afghans. Crawley, a powerful restaurateur who also happens to be severely agoraphobic, nabs the unlikely young intruders, and the crusty shut-in orders them to return daily to walk his dogs in exchange for their impunity. Once Antsy has gained Crawley's trust, he is asked to perform another task: to act as a companion for the man's blind granddaughter, Lexie. Antsy is then flanked by two peers-one who cannot see and one who cannot be seen - and, together, they overcome their collective liabilities through friendship, improving their own lives and the lives of those around them. Antsy tells his story in a bubbly Beastie Boys-meet-Bugs Bunny Brooklynese that keeps the pages flipping, and Shusterman's characters - reminiscent of those crafted by E. L. Konigsburg and Jerry Spinelli-are infused with the kind of controlled, precocious improbability that magically vivifies the finest children's classics. -Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI                 
--School Library Journal, October 2004, p. 176 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What do you think life is like for the Schwa?  
  2. Why does the Schwa agree to be experimented on? Does he have a choice?
  3. Why does Antsy have such a low self-esteem?
  4. How do you feel about Crawley paying Antsy to go out with his granddaughter?
  5. Do you think it is possible to be as invisible as the Schwa is?
  6. How does what happened to the Schwa's mom effect his life?

Related Websites:
Information about the Schwa Sound -

Neal Shusterman's website -

Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett, 1998
Love Among the Walnuts by Jean Ferris, 1998
Mates, Dates, and Mad Mistakes by Cathy Hopkins, 2004
The Mouse Rap by Walter Dean Myers, 1990
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, 1999
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements, 2002 (2002 RITBA Nominee)
Zee's Way by Kristin Butcher, 2004

Other Books by the Author:
Just for Boys Presents Guy Talk, 1987
The Shadow Club
, 1988
Speeding Bullet
, 1991
What Daddy Did, 1991
The Eyes of Kid Midas
, 1992
Kid Heroes, 1993
Darkness Creeping
, 1993
Dissidents, 1994
Darkness Creeping II
, 1995
Scorpion Shards
, 1995
MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain, 1996
The Dark Side of Nowhere, 1997
MindTwisters: Stories to Shread Your Head
, 1999
, 1999
Thief of Souls: The Star Shards Chronicles
, 1999
Mindbenders: Stories to Warp Your Brain
, 2000
MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind
, 2002
The Shadow Club Rising
, 2002
Shattered Sky: The Star Shards Chronicles
, 2002
Full Tilt
, 2003(2005 RITBA Nominee)
, 2005
Dread Locks (Dark Fusion #1)
, 2005
Red Rider's Hood (Dark Fusion #2), 2005
Duckling Ugly (Dark Fusion #3), 2006

About the Author:
Mr. Shusterman was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He began writing at an early age. He has degrees in both psychology and drama. His professional writing career began shortly after his graduation from college. At 22, Mr. Shusterman became the youngest syndicated columnist in the United States when he was picked up by the Syndicated Writer's Group. Besides just writing novels, he spends his time directing films, writing stage plays, and writing music. He, also, was a celebrity judge for Hasbro's Real American Hero Search. His books have won many awards.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair