Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Title: Leverage, 425 pages

Author: Joshua C. Cohen

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Penguin Group)

Released: February 17th, 2011

Interest: Cybils Y.A. Fiction finalist / 2011 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): 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.

Joshua C. Cohen is an author to watch!  Leverage is an edgy, emotional, gripping debut.  It will appeal to those who enjoy sports, but it’s about more than sports.  It’s about loyalty, courage, and standing up for what’s right, even when the odds are against you.

Kelly at Stacked has been telling me to read this for months, but I can’t say why I put it off for so long.  I’m actually made at myself for waiting so long to read Leverage.  When I told my students about the Y.A. Cybils finalists, one of my Y.A. Lit students asked if he could read it for his project (sports in Y.A.).  He reported back to me as he was reading it, and eventually another student in class went to our library to get himself a copy.  Once my student finished Leverage, he came into class telling me all about it and preparing me for some of the events/scenes in the novel.  After this interaction with him, I started it right away.  Just like my student, I came into school and kept up our conversation, this time sharing my thoughts about the story.  This kind of interaction/relationship with my students is why I love sharing books with them.

I’m happy one of my older students read Leverage first because it’s a mature read.  I knew something bad was going to happen as the prank war escalated, but even after my student’s warning, I never expected it to get as bad as it did.  Without spoiling the novel, one scene in particular is horrific and haunting.  I had a feeling something like that might happen, but I hoped it wouldn’t.  It’s a graphic scene, so if you’re working with younger students, you  might want to read Leverage first before you hand it to one of them.  Or at the very least, let these readers know that it’s a mature and sometimes graphic novel.  While I was heartbroken after this event, I understand why Cohen included it.  It really sets up the characterization of Danny and Kurt.

I really enjoy novels that switch points of view, because it allows for more understanding of the events in the story.  Kurt and Danny are written so well, that I couldn’t choose which character I preferred more.  Both characters are flawed and motivated by their emotions.  Kurt has a past  no person would wish on another, and Danny is searching for praise and perfection.  Kurt’s goal is to leave his past behind, so he’s working out constantly in hopes for a football scholarship.  Football also allows him to release his anger and frustration.  His helmet helps him speak without a stutter, which makes him feel more powerful and in control.  He can also hide his scars, both physical and emotional.  Danny’s mother died, so now it’s just him and his dad.  His dad doesn’t seem to take Danny’s sport seriously, he sees gymnastics as a hobby.  Danny’s hoping to become captain one day and receive a scholarship, but he also wants his dad’s approval and recognition.  Danny and Kurt may play different sports and be vastly different physically, but both have similar aspirations.  It’s not really until the heartbreaking scene that these two characters come together and work towards justice.  It’s this scene that really shows how flawed Danny and Kurt are, but even while I was yearning for them to do something, I understood their hesitation.  Joshua C. Cohen not only created complex characters, he has written a novel that makes the reader question what he/she would do if placed in Danny or Kurt’s position.  Once you think about this from the character’s perspective, it’s difficult to judge them for their actions and/or inaction.

Leverage isn’t a novel for the faint of heart, because like Kelly told me, it will devastate you.  And while much of the novel is dismal, I knew there would be some hope towards the end.  Although the ending itself, I’m not so sure about.  Parts of it didn’t feel very believable to me, but that might depend on the reader.  If you decide to read Leverage, be prepared for an intense reading experience and an emotional connection to the characters.  Leverage is a story about bullying to the extreme, and it’s one that I highly recommend.


  1. I’m so glad you found this one as powerful and raw as I did. Sounds like it’s found the right audience in your teens, too. I think maybe what’s scariest is, of course, how this kind of stuff really happens and we’re never quite aware of it.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      That’s why I think it’s so important that people read Leverage, despite it’s mature nature. I really wish more people would speak out if things like this ever happen to them or around them.

  2. Amazing review! I don’t think I would have picked this book up before reading your review and after just finishing Pieces of Us I’m not sure I can handle another dismal book right away but I will be adding this one to my tbr list now. I can handle “tough” books when they are done well and from your review it sounds as if this one was.

I love comments!

%d bloggers like this: