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The Schwa Was Here

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

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 17 reviews

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
Parent of a 9 and 13 year old Written bymphdavid April 9, 2008
Adult Written byleenewman April 9, 2008
Kid, 10 years old July 4, 2009

Really good!!!!

I really enjoyed this but I think it is better for older kids. The kids are sneaking out at night, a man calls an Italian a 'dumb guinea', a company c... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybookworm96 June 28, 2009

Great Book

This year, in my English class, I had the pleasure of being forced to read, "The Schwa Was Here". It was a cute work of fiction, and did give me a bit... 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

For kids who love good humor

Our editors recommend

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