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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
Publisher:  Dutton Juvenile
Published: February 1st 2011

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.

It is hard to know where to exactly begin... Joshua C. Cohen's debut novel is anything and everything BUT disappointing.  I honestly cannot come up with a negative thing to say about this amazing, outstanding, one of kind, unique novel.  There is so much to say about this book that I am going to have to break it down into parts....

Kurt is the new football star at Oregrove High School.  Danny is on the Oregrove gymnastics team. Both boys have a past, full of sorrow and pain.  An unlikely friendship between these two boys is formed when pranks made between the football team and the gymnastics team get out of hand.... way out of hand.  'Prank war' is an understatement; things go beyond 'war', creating consequences more severe than one could think possible.  


As the book's synopsis implies, steroids becomes a factor in this 'war'.  I am always drawn to books that focus on 'social issues' and taboo subjects that most authors dare not touch.  If Joshua C. Cohen was afraid to write about steroid use in high school athletics, he does not show it.  Kurt and Danny are both given the opportunity to have their say, from their own personal point of view. As a reader you learn about Kurt's and Danny's past and how it in turn it is affecting their present day decisions.  Cohen's use of first person narrative makes you feel sympathy, understanding, and sometimes anger at each character; but you walk away with a better understanding of who they are.   

Cohen does not shy away from giving real and raw characters.  Danny is a hard worker with one goal in mind: to get a full ride to college through his gymnastic skills.  His quiet demeanour in the school halls is far from his loud actions as a gymnast.  While he is terrified of the 'steroid-infused' jocks that rule the school, he proves he is anything but scared while doing dare devil moves in the air.  

Kurt comes from a very sad and brutal past, one that you cannot put into words.  Having experienced things that many are lucky to not know about, Kurt hides behind his shaggy hair while out in the real world and a football helmet while on the field.  The only place he feels at 'home' is in the gym exercising or helping his teammates score touchdowns. 

Both boys' sense of security and safety are shattered when the pranks between the two teams get way out of hand, invading the few places they feel safe.  The ripple affect is greater than you could imagine, even as the reader.  That brings us to the many supporting characters.  While Kurt and Danny are clearly the starts, each supporting character plays a very important role in this novel.  You have the 'steroid-infused' football players who literally blow your mind in terms of "How can anyone act that way, and think its normal?".  Then you have the tiny small gymnastics team, who work hard to show their place in high school by trying to stand up to the jocks.  Without these supporting characters the novel would not be complete.

As I said, no matter how hard I try to come up with something negative to say about this book, I just can't.  I first thought that because I couldn't read this book in a few short sittings that this was not going to be as amazing as it was... on the contrary, I found taking this novel in small bits, at least for me, was perfect.  I was able to absorb every aspect in their entirety.  This book is RAW, GRITTY, and REAL in such a severe and affecting way.  Because of that, my mind had to grasp the severity of the topics and themes.  There were times I cringed and cried, and had to take a step back.  Other times, I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next, on the edge of my seat. 

I believe that a novel of any kind should affect you on some level, in some way.  You should walk away from that novel with a new perspective or insight into something, especially from a novel that dares to tackle a 'social issue' or taboo topic.  Joshua C. Cohen provides this in the most perfect way!  I am forever changed by this novel.  If you are not afraid to confront such a raw reality that most people ignore, you MUST MUST MUST read this book!

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