When I sold So Not The Drama in 2006, among YA’s hot topics were not enough books featuring African American teens outside of the historical fiction or inner city blues realm and never enough “boy” books. I’m glad to say that based on this year’s Cybil nominations things are (have?) taking a turn.
Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen is a “sport” book. I never know if I’m marginalizing the book by calling it that or if because it centers around athletic main characters deeply involved in their sport that it is in fact that. I hope it’s the latter. Leverage is swelling with testosterone. Yet rather than being portrayed as the typical male gymnast or football player, the two main characters are three-dimensional individuals who also happen to be athletes.
Be warned, some of the journey is gritty and downright hard to swallow. What I loved most was this is the sort of YA novel that will appeal to the older teen reader. No hand holding, here. You get the full monty whether you want to see it or not.
The story is told from alternating POV: Danny, the talented sophomore gymnast and Kurt, the new-kid and hulking fullback of the school’s football team.
Worried you might get bored with the sports talk? Don’t. The escalating friction between the gymansts and the football players is the real action. The gymnasts want respect, the football team dominance. And if it weren’t for the football team’s steady consumption of steroids, Leverage might be the typical story of high school food chain and the domination of one clique over another. It’s not.
The tension reaches frightening heights then goes beyond. With bullying an ever present problem in our nation’s schools, Leverage is as much a must-read for adults so they understand just how horribly wrong it can go, as it is for teens. Surely no reader can absorb this story and not realize how essential it is to stop or report bullying, immediately.
Leverage delivers a timely and much-needed story. Unfortunately, the ending is wrapped up too neatly. The entire book had a dark, foreboding vibe to it. For me, arriving at the end was akin to being on an isolated pitch black winding road overgrown with overhanging dead tree limbs threatening to invade my car only to turn a corner and end up safely, smack dab in the middle of the well-lit and very busy city. The abrupt progression from dark and foreboding to whew, thank goodness didn’t just disappoint me, it was jarring. Even if things had ended up badly for both characters at least it would have felt genuine to the trajectory of the rest of the story.
Hollywood ending aside, Leverage will grip you and remind you that for some kids, being popular isn’t even on the top 100 list of their concerns as they navigate high school.