The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m not sure why I avoided The Schwa Was Here for so long. (It sat on my bookcase at school for years without me reading it.) And it’s hard to say why I finally picked up the audio version at the library. To be honest, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I liked it so much. (I just know that I did.)
If you’ve read Neal Shusterman’s middle grade novel, then you’re probably chuckling at my intro, because the story is about a kid you can’t quite put your finger on. He’s there, but he’s not. He’s standing right in front of you—maybe he’s even waving—but you can’t see him. Or you do see him, but when he’s gone you sort of forget he was there. He exists in your periphery, at the edge of your memory, and he’s convinced that someday he’ll disappear completely. They call him “The Schwa” when they remember to call him anything at all.
See? Already this book sounds interesting. Why did I never read it? I don’t know. But wait, there’s more. A lot more.
The Schwa is not even the main character. The story is told from the perspective of Anthony “Antsy” Banano (Is that a great name or what?) and he’s a lot of fun too. He’s a fully developed character, with a strong family dynamic, friend issues, problems of his own, and yes, even a love interest, who happens to be blind. (Hooray for #DiverseBooks!) Antsy is hilarious and has a great voice and, just for the record, so does the author. Shusterman narrates the audio book himself and does a FANTASTIC job. Now, whenever I’m reading a novel with a first person male narrator, I hear it in Neal’s voice. That includes my own novel draft, which is kind of weird.
But wait, there’s still more.
This book really kept me on my toes. When it started, I thought, Okay, so this is a story about a boy who no one sees and the problems and funny escapades that happen because of that. Cool! Then a couple of chapters later, I thought, Oh, that’s just one story line. The book is really about the bond that forms between Antsy and a grumpy old hermit who makes him walk his fourteen dogs, who are all named after the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues. Great! Then a couple of chapters later, I thought, OH! The book is REALLY about the love triangle that forms between Antsy, the Schwa, and the hermit’s blind granddaughter. Interesting! Then a couple of chapters later, I thought OH! The book is REALLY about… and so on.
There are so many little twists and turns in this book that I cannot imagine how many hairs Shusterman must have pulled out trying to write the one-page synopsis for it. I mean, this review is already a page long and I haven’t even gotten the chance to mention the Schwa’s awesome paperclip collection or the fact that the book begins with a group of boys trying to destroy a plastic mannequin named Manny Bullpucky.
There’s just too much good stuff to mention.
Despite the plot twists, everything flows together smoothly in The Schwa Was Here. The story is an easy, enjoyable read from start to finish. I liked it so much, I’m thinking about buying a paperback copy to put on my bookshelf again, just so I won’t forget about it. (You wouldn’t think I could forget such a good read, but the Schwa effect is a powerful force.)