Danny is small, but powerful. His diminutive size may keep others in the high school hierarchy from taking him seriously, but in the gymnastics world Danny is well on his way to the top. As a sophomore, he already has his eye on championships and a full-ride scholarship. Danny trains at school, during the off season, and at every optional Saturday practice. What Danny lacks in size he makes up for in will power and dedication.
Kurt is a giant. As a fullback on the football team, he is the not-so-secret weapon. With his stature, it should be easy for him to get respect. However, Kurt’s history of abuse in the foster care system has left him with a fair share of demons and a stutter that makes it difficult for him to express what’s going on in his head. While he earns plenty of admiration on the field, even his teammates give him a hard time in school. Kurt may have the upper hand physically, but he needs to find confidence and mental strength to go with it.
Told in alternating chapters from Danny and Kurt’s perspectives, Joshua Cohen’s debut novel Leverage delves into the rivalry between the high school gymnastics and football teams. The steroid-pumped, bulky football players and the underdog gymnastics competitors get involved in a prank war that goes too far. They engage in bullying that is almost too cruel to believe if not for all the real-life news coverage of similar events (often with video evidence). Leverage shows the action-packed, glory-filled moments of high school athletics, but it also portrays the darker side. Imagine Friday Night Lights, but much, much crueler.
Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, this book does not shy away from the harsh realities of high school life. Like Speak, it paints a picture of the importance of speaking out against those who bully and abuse you. The alternative is extremely grim. Those looking for a “boy book” for older teens need look no further; Leverage is the kind of book I would love to put in the hands of every high schooler. It is undeniably graphic–some scenes are so stomach churning that they border on vomit inducing–but it is that kind of honest detail that is necessary to make people wake up to the seriousness of the situation.
Leverage is not the sort of book I would normally pick off the shelves. The veins popping from the arm on the cover were a huge turnoff for me; I had to read this book with its dust jacket off just to stand a chance at keeping my food inside my body. I gave it a chance because Kari of A Good Addiction insisted that it was amazing. As always, I had to admit that she was right. I’m glad that I pushed outside my comfort zone, and I hope that other skeptical readers will, too.
Leverage is a mind blowing, dark, gritty, raw, and powerful book that is sure to evoke a visceral reaction. (Seriously, I am not a violent person, but while reading Leverage, I was ready to go kick some ass.) This novel is not all gloom and doom. Though the picture is often grim, it also shows that the big guys are not always the bad guys, nor the little guys always weak, and that people of any size should always speak loudly to demand justice. Leverage is full of characters you will hate, some you will pity, and several you will cheer for until the very end. I can only hope that Joshua Cohen’s emotional debut is the first of many books to come.