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Authors: Neal Shusterman

The Schwa was Here

BOOK: The Schwa was Here
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LAB JOURNAL

The Schwa Effect: Experiment #1

Hypothesis
: The Schwa will be functionally invisible in your standard classroom.

Materials
: Nine random students, one classroom, the Schwa.

Procedure
: We set nine students and the Schwa seated around an otherwise empty classroom (if you don’t count the hamsters and the guinea pig in the back). Then we dragged other students into the room, and asked them to do a head count.

Results
: Three out of five students refused to go into the classroom on account of they thought there’d be a bucket of water over the door, or something nasty like that, which is understandable because we’ve been known to play practical, and less practical, jokes. Eventually we managed to round up twenty students to go into the room, count the people in the room, then report back to us. Fifteen students said that there were nine people in the room. Four students said there were ten. One student said there were seventeen (we believe he counted the hamsters and guinea pig).

Conclusion
: Four out of five people do not see the Schwa in your standard classroom.

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THE
SCHWA
WAS
HERE

Neal Shustərman

THE
SCHWA
WAS
HERE

PUFFIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

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penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published in the United States of America by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004

Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006

Copyright © 2004 by Neal Shusterman

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGUED THE DUTTON EDITION AS FOLLOWS:

Shusterman, Neal.

The Schwa was here / Neal Shusterman.—1st ed.

p. cm.

Summary: A Brooklyn eighth-grader nicknamed Antsy befriends the Schwa, an “invisible-ish” boy who is tired of blending into his surroundings and going unnoticed by nearly everyone.

[1. Self-perception—Fiction. 2. Friendship—Fiction. 3. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.S55987Sbe 2004 [Fic]—dc22 2004045072

ISBN: 978-1-101-66052-2

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

For my grandparents Gussie and Dave Altman,
who will always be the spirit of Brooklyn to me

Schwa
: The faint vowel sound in many unstressed syllables in the English language. It is signified by the pronunciation “uh” and represented by the symbol e. For example, the
e
in
overlook
, the
a
in
forgettable
, and the
o
in
run-of-the-mill
.

It is the most common vowel sound in the English language.

Table of Contents

  1. Manny Bullpucky Gets His Sorry Butt Hurled Off the Marine Park Bridge

  2. The Weird and Mostly Tragic History of the Schwa, Which Is Entirely True If You Trust My Sources

  3. Quantizing the Schwa Effect Using the Scientific Method, and All That Garbage

  4. Making Big Bucks off of Stealth Economics, Because Maybe I Got Some Business Sense

  5. Which Is Worse: Getting Mauled by a Pack of Dogs, or Getting Your Brains Bashed Out by a Steel Poker?

  6. As If I Didn’t Already Have Enough Annoying Things to Do Every Day, Now I Gotta Do This

  7. The Lowest-Paid Male Escort on the Entire Eastern Seaboard, Except for Maybe the Bronx

  8. Are Those Your Fingers in My Mouth, or Are You Just Happy to Not See Me?

  9. Maybe They Had It Right in France Because Getting My Head Lopped Off by a Guillotine Would Have Been Easier

10. Earthquakes, Nuclear Winter, and the End of Life as We Know It, over Linguini

11. The Youngest Doctor in Sheepshead Bay Gets Held Hostage When He Least Expects It

12. A Horror Movie Blow-by-Blow, with the Undisputed Queen of the 3-B Club

13. A Russian Train, a Pulsing Vein, and My Mother’s Bag of Snails

14. More Than I Ever Wanted to Know About the Schwa’s Childhood

15. Vortex in Aisle Three—Can Someone Please Clean Up the Ectoplasmic Slime?

16. A Late-Night Trip to the Land of Beef That Could Turn a Person into a Vegetarian

17. A Traumatic Experience I’ll Live to Regret, Assuming I Live

18. Larger Than Life, in Your Face, Undeniable Schwa

19. The Schwa Gets Radiation Therapy in a Room That Doesn’t Smell Too Good No Matter How Much It’s Disinfected

20. The Weird Things Kids Do Don’t Even Come Close to the Weird Things Parents Do

21. Why I Started Vandalizing Brooklyn

22. My Anonymous Contribution to Popular Culture and to My Parents’ Phone Bill

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Special Excerpt from
SHIP OUT OF LUCK

1. Manny Bullpucky Gets His Sorry Butt Hurled Off the Marine Park Bridge

I don’t really remember when I first met the Schwa, he was just kind of always there, like the killer potholes on Avenue U or the Afghans barking out the windows above Crawley’s restaurant—a whole truck load of ’em, if you believed the rumors. Old Man Crawley, by the way, was a certifiable loony tune. A shut-in, like Brooklyn’s own Howard Hughes, almost as legendary as the lobsters served up in his restaurant below. See, there was this staircase that went up from the restaurant to the residence on the second floor, but with each step it got darker around you, so when you tried to climb it, you kept thinking you heard the horror audience behind you yelling, “No, don’t go up the stairs!” Because who but a moron would go up to search for Old Man Crawley, who had fingernails like Ginsu knives that could dice, slice, and julienne you, then serve you up in like fourteen thousand plastic dog bowls. Those bowls, by the way, would probably be made by my father, the Vice-Executive Vice-Vice-President of Product
Development for Pisher Plastic Products. If you’re a guy, I’m sure you already know that their most famous product is that little plastic strainer at the bottom of urinals, and you probably still laugh every time you look down while taking a leak and see
PISHER
® written in happy bold letters, like maybe it was to remind you why you were standing there.

But what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah—the Schwa. See, that was the whole point with the Schwa: You couldn’t even think about him without losing track of your own thoughts—like even in your head he was somehow becoming invisible.

Okay, so like I said, I don’t remember when I met him—nobody does—but I can tell you the first time I remembered actually noticing him. It was the day Manny Bullpucky jumped from the Marine Park Bridge.

It was a Saturday, and my friends and I were bored, as usual. I was hanging out with Howie Bogerton, whose one goal in life was not to have any goals in life, and Ira Goldfarb, who was a self-proclaimed cinematic genius. With the digital video camera his grandparents had gotten him for his bar mitzvah last year, Ira was determined to be Steven Spielberg by the time he got to high school. As for Manny Bullpucky, we kinda dragged him along with us to various places we went. We had to drag him around, on accounta he was a dummy. Not a dummy like Wendell Tiggor, who had to repeat the fifth grade like fourteen thousand times, but a real dummy. More snooty people might call him a mannequin, or even a
prosthetic personage
, because nobody calls things what they really are anymore. But to us normal people in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, he was a dummy, plain and simple.

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