4.3 15
by Joshua C. Cohen

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A Top Ten Best Fiction Book for Young Adults as Selected by the American Library Association

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,

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A Top Ten Best Fiction Book for Young Adults as Selected by the American Library Association

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cohen's debut offers a timely look at bullying, although coincidences and an over-the-top portrayal of the bullies undercuts the message at times. At Oregrove High, a trio of steroid-fueled football players bullies everyone, including the players in other sports, such as gymnastics. Danny is a high-bar specialist who does his best to stay out of their way, but an escalating war between the two squads draws him and his teammates in; when tragedy strikes, Danny is one of the few who know that the bullies are responsible. Another witness is Kurt, a stuttering abuse survivor and fullback who has just transferred to Oregrove. As the two teens cope with their guilt over their inaction during and after the shocking events, they are forced to confront both the bullies and their own insecurities. The central tragedy is gripping, as is Kurt's heartbreaking past, but the gratuitous thuggery of the bullies and their steroid-pushing coach more often feels like a scene out of Glee than out of real life, and the resolution is pat and unrealistic. Scenes of sexual violence may disturb some, but are appropriate to the plot and well-handled. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)
Booklist Starred Review
Sports novels don't hit much harder than this. Sophomore Danny may be a rising star on the gymnastics team, but that figures little in his daily life, where his small size makes him a target for the school's ruling class—the hormone-pumped, college-scouted stars of the football team. A minor grudge escalates until horrific revenge is taken upon one of Danny's teammates. Coming to the rescue, however, is Kurt, a behemoth new fullback whose scarred face and stuttering speech hint at a past that puts him at odds with his teammates. Told from the well-drawn alternating perspectives of Danny and Kurt, this is not a book about steroids; they exist, and they exacerbate the strife, but even Kurt admits that they have some short term benefits. Rather, this is a novel about being trapped inside a web of expectations, where one's family, community, team, and future rest on the assumed perpetuation of the established social order. Sports fans will love Cohen's style: direct, goal oriented, and filled with sensory detail. Characters and subplots are overly abundant yet add a deepness rarely found in comparable books. Drugs, rape, language, and violence make this book serious business, but those with experience will tell you that sports is serious business, too."— Daniel Kraus
VOYA - Cindy Faughnan
Danny is a tiny freshman on the gymnastics team at his school. Kurt was abused in a group home and decided the way to protect himself was to lift weights and bulk up. He is now a junior and a huge football player and is recruited for the football team in a school that will win at any cost. His new coaches push steroids on their players, and his new foster mother looks the other way and accepts the bonuses. When the three football captains take their bullying of the gymnastics team too far and rape gymnast Ronnie, Danny and Kurt are witnesses. After Ronnie commits suicide, Danny and Kurt become uneasy partners because of their knowledge. They have to deal with their anger, guilt, and helplessness, as well as the escalating torture from the steroid-taking football captains before they become the next victims. The chapters alternate between Danny and Kurt as they decide who they can trust and whether they can speak up about what they each know. The gripping story of their safety and how they each got to where they are keeps the reader in suspense. Details of the sports of football and gymnastics and the incidents of bullying are graphic. The issue of steroid use is a little lost in the overshadowing bullying, although the bullying is attributed to the long-term steroid use by the captains. This is an excellent book for sports fans, even though it is a chilling look at highly competitive high school football. Reviewer: Cindy Faughnan
VOYA - Jenna Yee
Leverage is a great read for the high school student or advanced middle school reader. Told in first person by two alternating characters, it is the story of an exaggerated stereotypical high school that will be familiar to readers. Cohen writes very well in the perspective of the two high school students. He uses language that is appropriate for the target audience. The story is catchy and will keep readers interested in the plot. 4P,3Q. Reviewer: Jenna Yee, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—The rape of a gymnast by three members of his high school's football team is the central event in this disquieting novel of bullying at its most violent. Danny Meehan is a promising gymnast bothered by his small stature and youthful appearance. Kurt Brodsky is a massive, physically talented football player tormented by past abuse he has suffered in the foster-care system and by a pronounced stutter that leads others to believe he is mentally challenged. In alternating chapters, the two boys describe the manner in which the campaign of intimidation orchestrated by the football team's tri-captains leads to an escalating level of violence that culminates in the attack on the smallest and weakest of the gymnasts, a freshman named Ronnie Gunderson. Kurt is not a part of the bullying, which reminds him of the torture he himself endured and that led to the death of a close friend. In fact, Kurt intervenes in the rape, fighting off his teammates in their attack on Ronnie. Danny was hiding in the room where the attack occurred, too fearful to defend his friend. Ronnie subsequently kills himself, but, for reasons of their own, Kurt and Danny are reluctant to openly accuse the attackers. Finally, with the help of a techno-savvy Goth girl, the two boys are able to expose the rapists in a very public way. This powerful novel is thought-provoking and well-written, and it's about as dark and disturbing as YA literature gets.—Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
Kirkus Reviews

Kurt and Danny are on high-school teams vastly different in school status. Danny, slightly built, is on the underfunded gymnastics team, while physically gifted Kurt is the latest addition to the popular football team. Each uses sports to cope with tough personal issues. Kurt's foster care and painful stutter are more visible than Danny's insecurities. A bullying episode inflicted by some football players drives a young man to suicide and links Danny and Kurt in an uneasy secret. This frank portrayal of the darker side of high-stakes school athletics is told in two very distinctive voices. There is little subtlety in the storytelling—the football coach is predictably single-minded, while the gymnastic coach is sensitive and earnest—but the exploitation of young athletes, from accepted steroid use to the way school budgets are manipulated, comes across. The gamesequences are well done, and there is plenty of authentic locker-room talk, some of it racist and homophobic. Kurt and hisstruggles are heartbreakingly real,and readers willpull for him long after the story ends. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.46(h) x 1.36(d)
870L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Joshua Cohen is a former collegiate gymnast who now lives with his wife in New York City.

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