Thursday, February 24, 2011


Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen.  Grades 10+  Dutton Juvenile, February 2011.  426 pages.  Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.

Danny:  To those in the know, he's a star gymnast, destined for glory (and full athletic scholarships).  To everyone else, he's a shrimpy sophomore getting pummeled by the jocks in the hallway every day.

Kurt:  To those in the know, he's a sensitive protector, trying to recover from psychological wounds inflicted since he was a little kid, working out and bulking up so that he can protect himself and those around him.  To everyone else, he's a stuttering, scar-faced moron living below the poverty level and only given a chance at a new school because the football coach will try anything to win.

When the steriod-infused captains of the football team target a freshman gymnast and push bullying to a deadly degree, secrets will be kept, guilt will fester, and an unlikely friendship between Danny and Kurt might be the only thing that can set the school to rights.

This is a stunning debut.  We have not one, but two distinctly realistic and gripping guy narrators telling the story in alternating chapters.  I really appreciated the fact that the Danny's and Kurt's voices were different.  Not once did I get them mixed up.  Secondary characters are distinct, too (possibly with the exception of the three bullying football captains - they pretty much seemed like three of the same person).

The sports sequences were really well-done and put the reader right into the action.  You can tell that Joshua Cohen knows what he's talking about in both gymnastics and football.  It's so interesting to read a story from a male gymnast's point of view.  I don't know that I know of any other books from that perspective.

Readers see the football players' bullying from two different points of view.  Danny's always been a victim.  His strategy is to keep his head low and try to avoid as much damage as possible.  Kurt was abused as a child and is through being the victim, but just because he's strong enough to physically defend himself doesn't mean he can't be bullied mentally and emotionally.

And bullying's definitely a hot topic right now.  This is definitely a book that will open some eyes and start some discussions.  On the author's website he says,

"I began writing "Leverage" after reading a news account of a horrific attack by a group of high school seniors on their fellow underclassmen teammates. When the victims reluctantly came forward they were ostracized by the surrounding community for sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season. My fascination with that part of human nature--the need to keep quiet when awful things occur and how that leads to victims getting wronged twice--is what started the whole story that eventually led to "Leverage.""
Occasionally the plot veers towards over-the-top, but unfortunately it may be all too realistic.  I like that the book explores different kinds of bullying, from the physical attacks on Danny to the mental attacks on Kurt.

Also, it is very gritty.  Joshua Cohen does not shy away from, well, anything.  The book deals with child abuse, rape, fights, drugs, teachers who look the other way, absent parents...  Some teens will really dig this, and for some teens it will be too much.  Know your audience with this one and hand it to teens who like Ellen Hopkins, Terry Trueman, or Chris Lynch.

Leverage is on shelves now!