The Schwa Was Here

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Schwa Was Here Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Going unnoticed isn't always fun.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

A comic examination of the trials and tribulations of a young kid who feels invisible. This story can easily open a dialogue between you and your child regarding self-image.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A major character refers to an Italian as a "guinea." Lots of sneaking out at night, going to dangerous neighborhoods. The adults are mostly pretty clueless.


A kiss, some mild innuendo.


A few mildly off-color words.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a borderline-fantasy take on a real problem: Young adolescents who feel invisible, unnoticed.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHuny July 8, 2010

Matt Berman Got It Wrong!

Matt Berman's review does not do this book justice. The Schwa was Here is a satisfying, humorous story with typical middle-school characters. It is a tale... Continue reading
Adult Written byleenewman April 9, 2008
Teen, 13 years old Written bycstell January 29, 2019

not interesting in the least bit

This has got to be the least interesting book I've ever encountered. Boring plot. don't bother with this book
Teen, 13 years old Written byEvent Horizon November 13, 2010

Not funny, actually, rather depressing.

For the whimsical chapter titles, this is a majorly depressing story. A kid has dreams, and really doesn't acheive them. His father neglects him. His mothe... Continue reading

What's the story?

Calvin Schwa is one of those kids who doesn't get noticed, even when he's standing in the middle of the boy's bathroom singing "God Bless America" while wearing an orange sombrero and a cat costume. When Antsy Bonano does finally notice him, the decide to test the "Schwa Effect," then to make some money from it. They go one dare too far, however, and end up doing penance to a crabby, rich old man with a beautiful blind granddaughter.

Fun aside, though, not being noticed can be tough, especially for the Schwa, whose mother disappeared when he was five and whose father seems to be out in space most of the time. As Antsy learns more about the Schwa's miserable life, he's determined to be the one who notices. But the Schwa has something more dramatic in mind.

Is it any good?

Neal Shusterman has a unique imagination, which can make his books hard to describe. This one skirts the edge of fantasy, sometimes perhaps sticking a toe over the line. The form is a sort-of legend, reminiscent of Maniac Magee, but the voice is a not-totally-consistent but often wicked Brooklyn smart-alec. The combination is fluidly readable, unpredictable, and poignantly funny.

The chapter titles give a pretty good idea of the mood of the book: "Manny Bullpucky Gets his Sorry Butt Hurled off the Marine Park Bridge," "Which is Worse: Getting Mauled by a Pack of Dogs or Getting Your Brains Bashed out by a Steel Poker?" and so on. But there's also a lot to think about and talk about here, most notably the whole Schwa Effect -- it may be a comic exaggeration, but it's all too real for many tweens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about self-image.

  • How much of our self-image comes from the image others have of us?

  • How can someone go through life unnoticed?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love good humor

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