Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: February 17, 2011
Source: ARC received from The Unread Reader
Summary: (from Goodreads) 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.
First impressions: Danny and Kurt are terrific narrators. Danny is sure of himself without being overly cocky. He's small and a gymnast, and his bravado seems to cover a bit of insecurity about his stature. Kurt is lumbering and quiet, caught behind a painful stutter. He's had a hard life, but is quick to see the good in others and is at heart a sweet kid with a terrible past. I just loved these two.
Lasting impressions: A powerful book that will challenge the way you think about bullying.
Conflicting impressions: I felt like the antagonists in this book were one-note villains juiced up on steroids and terrorizing the school with no consequences. This seemed a bit unrealistic to me, and thought the story would have been even more powerful if their brutality was a bit more subtle.
Overall impressions: Every once in a while, a book will come along and punch you in the gut. When I first read Missie's review I knew I had to read this book. I was bracing for the inevitable throughout the entire thing, which meant a lot of clenched jaws and fists as I battled through the pages.
Joshua Cohen does not hold back here. From the first few scenes, we know that the football jocks are playing for keeps. They are mean, terrifying, and disgusting. They rule the school as well as the gym. Their coach does nothing to keep them in check. In fact, the adults in this book are pretty much nonexistent. The boys in this story know they have to fend for themselves, and sometimes at the expense of their fellow classmates. It's a dog-eat-dog world, for sure.
Too often I think adults turn a blind eye to the concerns of kids. What can seem overdramatic or inconsequential to us can often seem truly frightening and devastating to kids. Granted, in this scenario I think anyone would have been fearful, but Cohen captures that fear in a very honest way. I understood why Danny was so on edge. My heart pounded every time he had to report for practice and step a foot into that locker room. Cohen brilliantly nailed that adolescent mix of isolation and disappointment that threatens to swallow you whole when the adults in your life ignore your fears, or worse, don't even realize the threat to your safety exists. It just broke my heart.
Although this book has a dark stain on it from the jocks' bullying, the true heart of the novel comes from how Kurt and Danny deal with it. Kurt, a new and gifted member of the football team, struggles with how to fit in, keep a low profile, but stand up for what is right. He was a victim of horrible child abuse growing up, and can't stand the thought of others being hurt. He forms a friendship with Danny after seeing a spectacular performance by Danny at a gymnastics meet, and Danny welcomes Kurt as a potential shield from the rest of the football team's bullying. Together they are able to find redemption after an intensely brutal attack by the football jocks on one of Danny's teammates.
That attack is the defining moment for our protagonists. They are completely changed by what they witness, and they realize that how they choose to proceed after the attack will stay with them the rest of their lives. In the face of even more tragedy, and the deep shame that beckons for them to cover up their emotional wounds and just move on, our heroes must make a decision. It's a decision none of us would ever hope to have to make, but it hangs there nonetheless. My stomach felt like a rock as I sped through the final chapters, desperate to find out whether Kurt and Danny would meet the challenge or hide from it.
This book is an important reminder that bullying exists, sometimes further under the surface than we like to admit. I highly recommend this book to everyone, and hope its poignant tale of courage and redemption speaks to your hearts as powerfully as it spoke to mine.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!
I think this is such an important book to read, so I am giving away a finished copy to one lucky winner!
This contest is open to ages 13 and up with a U.S. mailing address. To enter, leave a comment on this post, along with an email address where I can contact you. The contest will close on May 27, 2011 and the winner will be announced on the 28th. Good luck!
Missie was nice enough to send me her ARC of Leverage because I was so enamored with her review. If you are a reviewer interested in posting your own review of this book, I'd be happy to spread the love and pass along the ARC I received.