Leverage: A Review

Leverage by Joshua CohenDanny knows he’s small. He knows in terms of the pecking order at his school he falls near the very bottom (but above the Cross Country Runners at least). Doesn’t matter. He has a plan. Sure everyone makes fun of the boy’s gymnastics team–especially the varsity football players. They can laugh all they want when it gets him a full scholarship to a college of his choice. Danny is going places. All he has to do is keep his head down and stay out of the way of the football giants until he graduates. Easy.

Kurt Brodsky doesn’t care about high school politics. When you’re as big as Kurt is, you don’t have to. Classes, friends, sports. Doesn’t matter. As long as he can lift weights to stay strong and try to keep his past buried, it’s fine. No one is going to hurt him ever again. If part of that means joining the Oregrove High football team, fine.

Except nothing about the football team is simple. Not when the players keep taking questionable “supplements.” Not when the players can stomp anyone who looks at them funny in the halls. Not when the rivalry and tension between the football and gymnastics teams escalates to something violent and ugly.

Danny and Kurt should have never started to talk. They sure as hell shouldn’t have liked each other. But they did. That happened. If they can find the courage to work together maybe they can make this violent, ugly thing better. They can’t fix it or change it. But maybe they can make some things right in Leverage (2011) by Joshua C. Cohen.

Leverage is the first novel by Cohen who, before writing, parlayed his own high school gymnastics training into a professional career. Leverage was also a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction which is how I came to read it.

Told in chapters alternating between Danny and Kurt’s narrations, Leverage is a book with great characters and strong writing. Cohen captures two authentic, distinct voices with Kurt and Danny while shedding light on what being a high school football player or gymnast really feels like.* I just wish the book had a different plot.

This is a gritty, brutal, painful story about a school being torn apart by something that is supposed to bring people together: team sports. While Cohen provides an unblinking look at some harsh realities, the execution is not ideal with gaping plot holes, unanswered questions, and an ending that pushes the limits of believability on almost every level.**

Leverage is a strange, tense read. Although it is filled with authentic details, the story has erratic pacing and ultimately lacks any real sense of resolution even after drawing readers in and making them care so much about these characters for the entire 425 (hardcover) pages.

The book will no doubt appeal to sports fans and athletes as well as anyone looking for a book that doesn’t flinch from the harsher side of reality. It will not work as well for readers who like every question raised in a story to also be answered.

*I read this book a month ago and the idea of a school gymnastics team still blows my mind. It never occurred to me that such a thing could exist. (I went to a really small, non-sporty school.)

**Not to mention being largely predictable. If you’ve finished the book you’ll probably see what I mean.

Possible Pairings: Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, Between by Jessica Warman