A schwa is "a diacritic marking silence instead of a vowel sound," according to Webster's, and the name is appropriate for Calvin Schwa, who is "functionally invisible"nobody ever notices him, even when they're standing next to him. Anthony, known as Antsy, "an eighth-grade wiseass" living in Brooklyn, befriends the Schwa, as he calls him. Antsy himself sometimes feels invisible as the middle child in his family, while the Schwa's mother vanished when he was five. There are lots of plotlines here, as the two pull pranks based on the Schwa's ability to be overlooked, and end up walking dogs for cranky Old Man Crawley and serving as escorts for his feisty blind granddaughter while becoming rivals for her affection; there are also subplots about Antsy's parents, Antsy's attempts to find out what happened to the Schwa's mother, attempts to destroy a crash test dummy, and more. There is also lots of humor: a typical chapter heading is "Earthquakes, Nuclear Winter, and the End of Life as We Know It, over Linguini," and the dialog is fast and funny. This ode to friendship has got lots going on, and younger YAs will be entertained by Antsy's antics and his wisecracking comments on them. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 2004, Penguin Putnam, Dutton, 276p., Ages 12 to 15.
Anthony Bonana, Antsy to his friends, is an eighth grade Brooklyn youth with a story to tell about the Schwa: a guy his age who seems to be practically invisible. As the middle child of his lively Italian family, Antsy feels a bit difficult to notice himself sometimes, so he befriends the Schwa. From their experiments on just how invisible the Schwa can be, to walking fourteen huge Afghan dogs named after the Sins and the Vices for the scariest old man in the neighborhood, to falling in love with the same girl, Antsy and the Schwa grow closer and then apart. But throughout their misadventures, Antsy remains stubbornly set on finding out how the Schwa's mother disappeared because he worries that the Schwa, too, might totally disappear and that is something he is determined to prevent. Through learning more about the Schwa, Antsy discovers a good deal about himself as well. Antsy is one funny narrator whose observations-"He's about as creative as a bar code"-imperfections, and escapades make him extremely likeable. Antsy deals with problems that middle school boys will understand: parents who argue, friends who can be too judgmental, and girls who are just tough to figure out. The supporting cast of characters-from cranky old Mr. Crawley and his lovely blind granddaughter, Lexis, to Antsy's friends and family-are quirky and enjoyable as well. Middle school readers will find Shusterman has created yet another very readable and refreshingly different story. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Dutton, 272p., Ages 11 to 15.
Calvin Schwa is a boy so bland and colorless, so utterly unremarkable and unmemorable that his new, and only, friend, Anthony (Antsy) Bonano, does science experiments to investigate the "Schwa Effect"the degree to which Calvin can be present but utterly unnoticed by everyone. But the Schwa Effect fails on the doomed day that Calvin is dared to enter the dark and dog-ridden apartment of Old Man Crawley, a famous neighborhood recluse, to steal one of his dog bowls. The incident leads both Antsy and the Schwa into ever deeper involvement in Old Man Crawley's life, as he sentences them to walk his fourteen dogs, named after the seven deadly sins and seven cardinal virtues, and to befriend his blind (and attractive) granddaughter. Shusterman's characters are larger (and stranger) than life, and the events of the story are similarly exaggerated and bizarre, all narrated by Antsy in chapters with titles like "Which Is Worse: Getting Mauled by a Pack of Dogs, or Getting Your Brains Bashed Out by a Steel Poker?" and "Maybe They Had It Right in France Because Getting My Head Lopped Off by a Guillotine Would Have Been Easier." It all adds up to a thoughtful, though decidedly odd, parable on self-identity and the degree to which we need to have our existence recognized and validated by others. 2004, Dutton, Ages 10 to 14.
Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Gr 7-10-Eighth-grader "Antsy" Bonano recounts how his accidental relationship with three quirky characters winds up being mutually beneficial. The catalyst in this social collision is Calvin Schwa, a classmate who has an almost supernatural knack for going completely unnoticed. When Antsy decides to become an "agent" for the "nearly invisible" Schwa by entertaining wagers on what he can get away with by being able to fly almost entirely beneath the social radar, the boys enjoy temporary success until they accept a dare requiring "The Schwa" to enter the home of a legendary local eccentric and retrieve a dog bowl belonging to any one of his 14 Afghans. Crawley, a powerful restaurateur who also happens to be severely agoraphobic, nabs the unlikely young intruders, and the crusty shut-in orders them to return daily to walk his dogs in exchange for their impunity. Once Antsy has gained Crawley's trust, he is asked to perform another task: to act as a companion for the man's blind granddaughter, Lexie. Antsy is then flanked by two peers-one who cannot see and one who cannot be seen-and, together, they overcome their collective liabilities through friendship, improving their own lives and the lives of those around them. Antsy tells his story in a bubbly Beastie Boys-meet-Bugs Bunny Brooklynese that keeps the pages flipping, and Shusterman's characters-reminiscent of those crafted by E. L. Konigsburg and Jerry Spinelli-are infused with the kind of controlled, precocious improbability that magically vivifies the finest children's classics.-Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Calvin Schwa is special, see? Well, no, because you can't see him at all. The Schwa is disturbingly unnoticeable. For years he has been marked absent in school, and he has certainly never managed to make friends. When-with great difficulty-he intrudes upon the consciousness of Antsy and friends, the boys try to codify what they call "the Schwa effect." Will the Schwa be noticed spying in the teachers' lounge? Thumbing his nose at the principal? Standing in the boys' bathroom, wearing a Day-Glo orange sombrero, and singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs? Amidst their antics, Antsy and the Schwa come to the aid of a cranky and rich old man with a beautiful blind granddaughter, start national graffiti trends, and explore the Schwa's (quite interesting!) paperclip collection. It's all fun and games until friendships dissolve. Will the mysterious Night Butcher provide the Schwa with clues to his unwanted invisibility? The presence of stock characters and subplots doesn't detract from the cleverness and humor of this tall tale. (Fiction. 11-15)