Anthony "Antsy" Bonano, the eight-grade narrator of this delightful tale, makes friends with an unusual kid in his class at the beginning of this book. The kid is Calvin Schwa, known in an almost urban-legendy way simply as "The Schwa." He's a kid who blends in - to the point of disappearing - so much so that people don't even notice he's standing right next to him until he says something. Antsy notices that it's even a slippery sort of experience thinking about the Schwa - somehow the mind veers around him and finds something else to focus on.
While the other kids think the Schwa is weird (when they notice him at all), Antsy is fascinated by him. As the middle child in a busy, boisterous family, he knows what it feels like to be overlooked, if not to the extreme that Calvin is. Inspired by the teachings of the scientific method as school, Antsy begins a series of tests to see exactly how far Calvin's invisibility (which he calls "the Schwa effect") can extend. It turns out, pretty far. They set up a business at school, taking money for services, bets and pranks, as Calvin infiltrates the teacher's lounge and other previously inaccessible places.
Antsy soon comes to regret his casual acceptance (as the Schwa's business manager) of a dare to infiltrate the home of Mr. Crawley, an extremely wealthy, grumpy old man who lives above one of the restaurants in his neighborhood. Rumor has it that when some kids once egged the old man's house, and he was able to pull strings so that not a single egg was available in any of the local stores in retaliation. The Schwa effect does not work around Mr. Crawley, and Antsy and Calvin find themselves forced to do "community service" to atone for their trespassing - which involves walking Mr. Crawley's many Afghan hounds and, later, serving as escorts for his granddaughter (an assignment they are only too happy to have). Antony falls for her, hard - but so does Calvin, as she is one of the few people who always realizes he's there.
This is a character-driven book, carried along by Antsy's strong, honest voice and powerful narration. He uses colorful language that creates vivid images and often made me laugh. The plot is fast-paced, and the dialog brings the characters to life. No one is perfect, and everyone is looking for something to make their lives better in some way, although most of them are floundering around as they move through their lives. Antsy does not think of himself as smart - his grades are nothing compared to his older brother's - or his younger sister's. But as the story progresses, he discovers firsthand that there are several kinds of smart, and he just might have more to offer than he realized. He makes mistakes - all the characters do - but they learn from them, changing and growing in surprising and moving ways.
This is the second book I've read by Neal Shusterman - and I have no doubt that I'll be reading many more. He narrates this audio book himself, and he does an excellent job, giving Antsy a sympathetic, believable voice, Brooklyn accent and all. I felt a definite sense of loss when it comes to an end - but happily, I've learned there is another book featuring Antsy and his family, Antsy Does Time, and I am excited to spend some more time with them. This is a wonderful book - it addresses so many important things, offers up so much food for thought, not to mention characters to care about; it's funny, exciting, moving, and should have equal appeal to teen boys and girls alike. I highly recommend it!
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman; narrated by Neal Shusterman (Listening Library, 2008)
Also by Neal Shusterman: Everlost
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Becky's Book Reviews: "The novel was funny in many places, yet it addressed serious issues as well. I rank this as one of the best books of the year."
The Retort: "Shusterman makes original choices and takes surprising veers through his story in a way that even I — a jaded, blackhearted cynic — found moving."