Friday, August 7, 2009

A Schwa Worth Knowing

Last night I finished reading a unique middle school/young adult novel--The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman.

It is unique first and foremost because good, humorous, realistic novels for boys of this age are few and far between. This is narrated by an eighth grade boy in a style and voice that rang true for me. (Of course, I have never been an eighth grade boy, but it surely sounds like the eighth grade boys I hear talking in the halls of school.) There are other books that try to capture the voice of middle school boys who are toying with the idea of being interested in girls, but aren't quite sure where to begin. The first that come to my mind are those in the Bingo Brown series by Betsy Byars. The immediate difference is that while Bingo Brown narrates the story the voice is all too often the voice of the female author. It is more of a book about a boy that is written for a girl. (It is also a favorite of mine. You might want to read those books and compare.) While girls will like the Schwa, this books is clearly by and for males.

The premise of the story is not unique--Calvin Schwa is a boy who is looking for his long missing mother and trying to figure out his own place in the world. The development of that idea is unlike any I have ever read. As Anthony (Antsy) Bonano tells it, the Schwa is nearly invisible even while in plain sight. People just do not notice him. He seems to appear out of nowhere, surprising even teachers, despite his hand waving in the middle of the classroom. There are some great scenes of the boys (Antsy and his two best friends Howie and Ira) testing how invisible the Schwa is, proving the effectiveness of what they dub the Schwa effect. Things get complicated when both Antsy and the Schwa are interested in the same girl and more interesting when the Schwa sets out to be noticed by the world. Antsy steps in to heal their friendship and help find Calvin's mother. The story is touching at times, but not too often as the boys know they must rise above sentimentality.

For all that going on, the story is uniquely funny. The chapter titles give away the twisted humor that runs through the story with titles like "Vortex in Aisle Three--Can Someone Please Clean Up the Ectoplasmic Slime?" and "The Weird Things Kids Do Don't Even Come Close to the Weird Things Parents Do". (Isn't that last title a bit of truth that is often overlooked?)

Read The Schwa Was Here. You will laugh and then want to go put a schwa somewhere just to spread the joy.

No comments: