The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman

March 8, 2012
By JasonC BRONZE, City, California
JasonC BRONZE, City, California
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For an author who is known for his fantasy writing, Neal Shusterman demonstrated his flair for realistic fiction as well in his novel “The Schwa was Here”. In this story, Shusterman creates his own Brooklyn, New York in which many mysteries, myths, and rumors are to be solved by your average Middle Schooler, Anthony “Antsy” Bonano.

In the city of Brooklyn, New York, there is the Schwa. Calvin Schwa. Nobody really knows who he is, but the odd thing is that the people who have met him don’t even remember ever doing so. That is, until Antsy meets him and discovers more about him than any other person who has ever existed, except maybe his mother who disappeared in a supermarket without a trace or his brain-damaged father who sometimes doesn’t even know his son exists. That’s beside the point though. The two learn to utilize the Schwa’s abilities, reaping in many benefits, until they decide to push their luck and break into Mr. Crawley’s apartment for a dare, who is a legendary old man with enough power and influence to shut down entire businesses. Their lives will never be the same after their stunt, as many responsibilities, challenges, and difficult choices are thrust at them. When a new factor, a girl by the name of Lexis, is added to this already convoluted equation, friendships are torn apart and repaired (mostly torn apart), and Antsy must survive these changes. On top of all this, the Schwa is disappearing, no matter how much he tries to be noticed by the world, and the only person who can do anything about it is none other than Anthony Bonano.

“The Schwa was Here” is a simply amazing story. Not only does it have a unique plot, but Shusterman’s writing style is even better. For example, his characters are realistic and have developed personalities. This does not necessarily mean they have a good personality or are good people, however, it is that they have emotion like real human beings and express them the way one would as well. In the story, Antsy makes many bad decisions because of jealousy and admits them, but attempts to justify them, which is a demonstration of human-like humility. “I didn’t tell him about the Night Butcher, and I didn’t invite him to traumatize Crawley with us. You never realize when you make little choices how big those choices can be. I can’t really be held responsible for everything that happened next, but if I had made the right decision, things could have turned out differently.” (p 175) In this event, Antsy had knowledge that could have helped Calvin realize what was wrong with his world, but refrained from telling him that important information, causing both of them to make mistakes that change their lives. Especially Calvin. Shusterman also uses various strategies effectively to make his story and his characters more interesting.

Humor, mood, and tone are all very crucial to setting the stage for a story. It just so happens that Shusterman is a master of all three in this book. His characters, especially Antsy, have sensible and witty senses of humor. They may make clever cracks at each other, especially in Antsy’s relationship with Mr. Crawley, where the other loathe each other but also respect each other because of their skill with their tongues, but other times, their mind fails them and they may say less than clever insults. “’Mr. Crawley’s really shaken up. I guess I’ll be here for a while.’ ‘Is he okay?’ Mom asked. ‘Is he gonna live?’ ‘Not if I can help it.’ Crawley let a single loud guffaw at that. It was the first time I had ever made him laugh.” (p 119) After an incident where Crawley is harmed and driven to the hospital, this conversation occurs, with both of them inducing a laugh from each other exactly once. As for mood and tone, there is a thin line between serious and hilarious. Shusterman, to use one of his quotes in the sequel to this book, grinds that line just fine. He uses many metaphors and exaggerations for humor, but not too much that you don’t take the story that follows seriously. A good example of this would be at the beginning of chapter… well, every chapter, including the title. Chapter 11 – The Youngest Doctor in Sheepshead Bay Gets Held Hostage When He Least Expects It begins with “Being felt. That means a lot of things, doesn’t it? And I’m not talking about the dirty stuff you probably think I mean. My min isn’t in the sewer all the time, all right? I’m talking about having your presence felt. In that way, I guess I’m not all that different from the Schwa.” Lastly, there are many themes that are easy to recognize, which is important and come up several times too.

Right now, I can think of two themes to this story off the top of my head. One would be the importance of family and their structures. A family can be very bonded and difficult to separate or so fragile that even a small argument can tear it apart. In the case of Antsy’s family, it’s the latter. A simple debate about fra diavolo sauce creates a rift between the parents and earns Antsy much more respect and recognition because of his role in ending it with a bang. “The old Antsy would have found some way to distract them from the argument and, failing that, would have said something to keep the peace… They hadn’t wanted the truth. We all knew it. Suddenly I wasn’t playing by the rules.” (p 107) The other theme would be the theme that is stressed the most by Shusterman and occurs nearly every other chapter. It is that your actions have impacts, no matter how small they may seem, and sometimes the smallest ones have the biggest effects. That last quote would also serve an example of this theme. Because of Antsy’s poor judgment at times before he does things he calls “small”, he loses his first chance at love, becomes distant from two of his former best friends, and causes the Schwa to get ripped off of a lot of money. This book is absolutely brilliant, and that’s just one way to put it.

I utterly loved this book and it is possibly my favorite of all time that I have read so far, and that is certainly saying something. I think one reason for this is that I, as well as many people in real life, can relate to the characters. Antsy and the Schwa are people that are just there, not popular but not disliked, avoided, or anything like that. Sometimes it gets on our nerves and clouds our judgment, making us do stupid things. The only thing I disliked about this book was that some important characters, like his older brother and younger sister had little or no role in the story except as objects for comparison in Shusterman’s metaphors and similes. I apologize for the redundancy, but “The Schwa was Here” was a thrilling tale with ups and downs that felt like it could’ve happened just across your street. For a book revolving around an invisible boy, the talent in it is certainly VERY visible.

The author's comments:
This school assignment was quite stressful, but by no means was it because of the assignment. My procrastination habits certainly are a pain in the neck.

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