C.E. G's Reviews > Leverage

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
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's review
Feb 05, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-ya-ya
Read on February 05, 2012

Wow, this book was not at all what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting a formulaic sports story along the lines of "high school athletes face challenges at home, are redeemed by sports." That's how sports stories go for older children, and that's kind of what I wanted to read on Superbowl Sunday.

What I got was something less sports-oriented (football and gymnastics were more the setting for the story than the plot), and something much, much more intense and complex.

The story is brutal and draining (in a good way). I finished it almost an hour ago and I still feel a little bit shaky. Cohen covers some really grim territory - bullying, rape, abuse, silencing, suicide. And he covers it perfectly (IMO), in part because he doesn't shy away from the grit. There's no fading to black when scenes start to get violent. He doesn't let the reader look away because so much of this novel is about witnessing. At no point does it feel prurient or excessive, it just feels incredibly honest.

And in light of the Penn State/Paterno scandal, we need to be reading stories like these.

But beyond the topics and the story, the book is also well-written. Well-written in the way that I barely even noticed Cohen's writing - it wasn't lyrical or anything, but it did feel effortless. The two perspectives of Danny and Kurt felt distinctive and authentic, which I think is where many other YA books with multiple perspectives fail (i.e. one voice ringing more true than others).

The weakest point I found was in the last few chapters. The end was satisfying from a readers' perspective, in that it finally felt like a breath of fresh air after being pummeled in the gut for 300 pages. But it also pulled me out of the reading experience and reminded me that I'm reading a YA novel - loose threads get wrapped up, cute girl saves the day, sports are still awesome. The rest of the novel feels so much like real life that a happy ending felt out of place.

Also, I couldn't tell two of the "bad" boys apart (and really, most of the bad guys in the story are pretty one-dimensionally evil - the book doesn't challenge many stereotypes), and I think the third quarter of the book could have been edited down.

But overall, I recommend this book highly. Make sure you have some time to decompress after reading it, because it gives the reader a lot to think about in terms of power (leveRAGE!), witnessing, self-preservation, strength, high school culture.

PS I want to know where in MN Joshua Cohen is from. With the road names and rival schools, it sometimes it felt like he was describing the high school I went to...


Earlier 2/5...

on page 60: reading a YA football book for superbowl sunday. great so far...
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