The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman

Finding Your Way Through January
We all are faced with decisions that we don't want to make, decisions that affect the course of our lives. Each of these books deals with making a tough decision, and then dealing with the consequences of that choice.

Antsy (or Anthony) is a pretty average kid. Sure, sometimes he feels invisible, but he's got a few good friends, and a family that loves him. One day when he and his friends are out trying to destroy a test dummy at his dad's request, he first encounters "the Schwa effect". One minute, it's just the three of them. Next thing he knows, this kid Calvin Schwa has suddenly appeared in their midst. He seems like a pretty nice kid, even if he is a little odd. But then, where did he go again? Oh, he was right there all along...

They decide to test his "Functional Invisibility", and it turns out that the Schwa really does get overlooked, even when he tries to stand out. They put their theory to good use and start a "Schwa for Hire" business, with Antsy as Calvin's manager. Pretty soon they are making money spying on people, sneaking in overdue homework, accepting dares, and then...they get the really Big dare. Some dumb jock wants them to sneak into Old Man Crawley's place and steal one of his dog's bowls. Crawley is a local legend, an infamous, rich, grouchy recluse with 14 dogs. Piece of cake, right?

After Crawley catches them, he threatens to call the police. They agree to come and walk his dogs as restitution, and that is how Antsy and the Schwa meet Lexie. Crawley hires Antsy to keep his granddaughter entertained. When they meet, Antsy realizes that Lexie is blind. Of course, she never has a problem 'seeing' the Schwa. The three of them form an unlikely triangle, which culminates in each of them learning a painful, but necessary life lesson. Together they untangle the Schwa's past. In the end, the Schwa gets his notoriety in the most unlikely of ways. Fun read, touching and sweet, will appeal to guys and reluctant readers. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and very entertaining.

If you liked this, check out:

Schusterman, Neal. (2004). The Schwa Was Here. Dutton Children's Books: New York, NY.

Schusterman, Neal. (2008). The Schwa Was Here [audiobook]. Random House/Listening Library: New York, NY.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Naomi has a problem. She doesn't know this person sitting next to her in the ambulance, claiming to be her boyfriend (but he isn't). In fact, she has a bigger problem...she doesn't remember the last four years of her life! Including her parents' divorce, her mother's remarriage, her step-sister, her boyfriend Ace, her love of yearbook...just to name a few. Her best friend, Will, tries to fill her in...but somehow, it seems like she doesn't fit in her own life.

She begins to wonder what she ever saw in Ace, and begins to think more about James-the boy claiming to be her boyfriend, who incidentally called the ambulance after her fall. She tripped on the stairs, and that's what caused the amnesia. After learning she and Will are co-chief editors of the yearbook, she tries to find what it was that drew her to it in the first place. It seems like a whole lot of time to spend on something people are barely going to look at. In fact, several of her activities seem like a waste of time...

The more she learns about her life, the less she wants to know. She struggles with personal identity, and the strained relationship she shares with both her parents. Turning to James, she looks for someone else who isn't quite whole. This is a Gateway Award Nominee, with just enough teen angst to satisfy readers. Humor plays a role as well, and in the end, everything comes together nicely. Great for a wide range of interests.
"As I cut, it occured to me that it might be pointless to even try to look like the girl in the yearbook. It might be easier to be somebody completely different instead. I cut pieces from the back and the front, until all that survived was a choppy short mane. With each piece, I felt like I was getting rid of someone's expectations of me: goodbye, Mom, Dad, Will, Ace, those kids at lunch, my teachers, everyone," (Zevin pg. 109, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Zevin, Gabrielle. (2007). Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Farrar Straus Giroux: New York, NY.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Joey Harker is a pretty average kid, with the exception of his horrible sense of direction. One day, his crazy social studies teacher, decides that the entire class will be grouped into teams and dropped off at a random point in the city. The goal is to find their way to certain checkpoints by an appointed time...but as usual, Joey gets lost. At first it doesn't seem that terrible, but that is before the flying saucer-silver alien guys shows up, threatening him with electric nets.

Next thing he knows, he's in some alternate reality, with a guy in a silver mask (whose face looks surprisingly like his own) named Jay, telling him to follow. As if that wasn't bad enough, a woman materializes before him and puts a spell on him. Suddenly, he is whisked away to what seems to be some kind of space pirate ship. He knows he's out of options, and he will follow this woman, Lady Indigo, to the ends of the earth. Luckily, Jay appears, masquerading as Lady Indigo's servant, and undoes the spell. They escape into the In-Betweens, and are headed back to base, InterWorld.

Joey, it seems, is one of hundreds of Walkers who can walk between worlds. He studies at InterWorld's boot camp...which is a little harder than high school. In fact, they study round-the-clock! Martial arts, survival skills, magic, science, and lots of things that are not applicable on our Earth. He manages to make it through, but will he survive the upcoming trials?

A more in-depth synopsis would give too much away. It may seem confusing, and it is at times, but Gaiman and Reaves to a good job tying things together, and explaining difficult issues. It explores the concept of parallel worlds in a way that will appeal to teens, and incorporates issues of personal identity, diversity, and the true meaning of family.
"...I came to a path that I could feel would lead me into the Earth with the InterWorld base on it. I wish I could explain it better than that. I could feel it there, in the same way you can feel with your tongue a place in your tooth where the filling has fallen out. I could feel it. It was time to Walk. And I did," (Gaiman and Reaves pg. 89, 2007).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy)
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle trilogy)

Gaiman, Neil and Reaves, Michael. (2007). InterWorld. HarperCollins: New York, NY.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Over breakfast, Jennifer tells her about Cassie. How they found her alone in a hotel room, dead. Cassie, who was her best friend since third grade, who suddenly stopped talking to her last year, who left 31 messages on her phone last night...why hadn't she answered?

Lia can't let them see how if affects her, how it threatens to rip her open, how she knows that Cassie's ghost will come to haunt her. If she does, they'll send her back. So she waits until her stepmother (Jennifer) takes her stepsister (Emma) to school, and then pretends to eat a bowl of cereal (275 calories). She knows she has to eat if she's going to drive, so she eats some raisins, almonds, and a pear (172 calories). At school, she goes to the nurse's office to rest. The nurse makes her drink a glass of orange juice, but it's that or she has to go back to class. Everything spins.

Back at home, there is a message from the hotel where Cassie was found, telling her to call Elijah. Cassie left her another message. She pretends to eat Thanksgiving leftovers, and has two rice cakes with mustard (90 calories), and goes to bed. Today she weighs 99.0 pounds. If they knew, they would send her back. Her mother calls to talk to her, but she doesn't return the call. Dr. Marrigan (mom) is too busy to take a real interest in Lia, she's a cardiac surgeon. Professor Overbrook (dad) is too busy with his book, and his students, and his new family. Emma loves her, but Lia has to protect her.

Cassie was bulimic. Lia is anorexic. She's been hospitalized twice, and she's under weight again. Her goal begins to blur, and everything starts to spin out of control after Cassie is gone. Cassie starts visiting her every night, in her dreams and nightmares. Starts taunting her, saying she's next. That's the real question, does Lia want to live?

Anderson does a fantastic job of capturing the struggle of eating disorders, and the toll it takes on all the aspects of your life. It asks the important questions, it tells the dirty secrets, and it is written with a slight stream-of-consciousness that teens will appreciate.
"...she ordered cheese fries, chicken nuggets, and a salad. I drank black coffee and licked artificial sweetener from the palm on my hand. She asked me to guard the door while she puked lunch into the dirty mall toilet. We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread paths into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers. We danced with witches and kissed monsters. We turned us into wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone," (Anderson pg. 98-99, 2009).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2009). Wintergirls. Viking (Penguin Group): New York, NY.