Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen


The football field is a battlefield

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on—and off—the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy—including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.


Published February 17th 2011 by Dutton Juvenile

The Elliott Review:

Since I am not into sports very much, what drew me to this book were the words in the summary -  "emotionally damaged fullback." I wasn't sure if the focus on sports would put me off or not. I'm so glad that I took a chance and read a book that was out of my standard comfort zone because this is one of my favorite books of 2011 so far. What sets it apart is its intensity. Everything in this book is intense. Intense emotions. Intense violence. Intense character development. Intense backstory. Intense stakes. It's just - wow!

The dual perspective works very well for this book. The voices of Kurt and Danny are distinct and poignant, though very different. Both boys have an inner world that few people are allowed to see, have fears about what could happen if they present a true face to the world. To Kurt, that "emotionally damaged fullback" that drew me to the story, that means stifling all the horrible, past memories he keeps inside from his foster care days. It means trying to block out the guilt that he feels about his friend, Lamar's, death. For Danny, it means pretending like being considered "less than" and weak doesn't hurt. While reading, I was stunned by how deep and complex the characters' emotions could be while remaining completely authentic and natural for guys their age. Kurt and Danny each leave a major impression in the mind of the reader.

The violence in this book is some of the most intense and graphic drop-your-jaw violence that I've ever read. Paired up with feelings that are already jangling from feeling the boys' emotional pain, it left me shell shocked. I would say in a good way, but I have to rephrase that because "witnessing" that level of violence can never really have a good affect on you. Rather, this violent act was harrowing, very masterfully serving its intended purpose of setting the stakes very high for both Danny and Kurt. Their lives are forever altered, and it's up to them to decide in what way they will change based on what they have seen.

After what happens, it is crucial for Kurt and Danny to stand up to the steroid-infused jocks at their school. Of course, it's the right thing to do, but it's also necessary in order for each of them to be able to cope. Theirs are the voices that are never heard, never acknowledged. They have to drastically act in order to keep themselves from being forever marginalized, victims. And the crew they have to stand up to makes any other bully in any other book seem like a moralistic cartoon. These guys are life-ruiners and, while not necessarily evil per se, their actions are so destructive, and they have all the cards stacked in their favor.

If you can handle gritty, gripping intensity, then I tell you to run - not walk - to the nearest bookstore and rip this baby off the shelf. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's something that you will never be able to forget. The themes and issues in this book are necessary and relevant for today's world, masterfully woven together into a work of genius.

Source: Thanks to Kari at The Teen {Book} Scene for organizing this tour. You can view other stops on the tour here.

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