Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Book Review (sorta): Thoughts on Neal Shusterman’s The Schwa Was Here

By on October 26, 2008

So I just finished reading Neal Shusterman’s The Schwa Was Here.  I know, I know.  For all you librarians out there, you’re probably saying: “What?  It took you THIS long to read it?  Jeesh, what kind of tweenteacher are you?”  Well, somehow I missed it when it first hit the scene.

I discovered Neal Shusterman (NS for short) when I read his eerily edgy account of tween purgatory in Everlost.  I really liked Everlost, with its realm of cliquish spirits existing in an alternative plane made up of the dead carpet-squares of their points of passing.  I especially really like an author that didn’t shy away from big issues.  You know, those issues that civilians assume kids don’t or shouldn’t think about, but that kids sometimes obsess about in the dark or when just phasing out in class?  Well, in Everlost’s case, it is the concept of death, the afterlife, and how one chooses to spend it.

In The Schwa Was Here, NS explores the lonely world of the invisible tween. Calvin Schwa is a middle schooler nobody can see.  It’s as if wherever he stood, the light always refracted a certain way, like there was a glare that resulted in his unwanted anonymity.  Bottom line, nobody sees him.  Even his friends go to sleep at the end of the day realizing that the day has gone by without even a single thought of him in their brain.  He resorts to funny, if not sad, ways to get noticed.  Perhaps it is his own doing.  Perhaps it is in his genes.  His mother, after all, disappeared when he was a toddler.  Perhaps it is, instead, “The Schwa Effect,” a superpower of sorts that allows him to be a spy for hire in his middle school.  The story itself is told from the point of view of his friend, Anthony, who takes up The Schwa’s mantle in an attempt to save his friend from disappearing altogether.

I can’t say I loved this book, but it’s themes hung in the air around me for quite some time after I had turned the last page.

It got me thinking of my own middle school years, of how convinced I was of my own invisibility, of the obnoxious things I did to counteract my own Schwa effect, and how I discovered years later, that I wasn’t so unnoticed or disliked as I was convinced I was.

But isn’t that the way it is for everyone at least on some level during those tween and teen years?  Even the school cheerleader or the Emo kid is counteracting the possibility of their own Schwa Effect.

I looked at my own classroom today wondering about my own Schwas.  Is there a student I’ve never called on even by the end of 1st quarter?  Is there a student whose writing is so bland that I don’t still have a sense of their voice?

Insecurity in tweens is almost a rite of passage, but as a teacher, I can’t allow any of my students to disappear.

Look at your classroom rosters and find your Schwas.  Seek out their talents and be a part of showcasing them to their peers and to themselves.

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  1. sharman
    June 1, 2009

    I liked your take on The Schwa Was Here. I haven’t read it yet. (I know) But I will force myself to read it this summer since I’m teaching in the fall. It’s required reading for my incoming students. Are there any good teaching guides online that include all the elements?

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