Leverage by Joshua Cohen

As soon as I started reading this it reminded me of Chris Crutcher–horrific child abuse and sports.  This was a very difficult book for me to read. It pushed all my buttons on things that get me agitated, reinforced my sweeping generalization beliefs (football is a brutal game played by barbarians, jocks get away with everything at school, society values sports too much, bullies get away with whatever they want, cops attract crooked guys), and tapped into the fury I feel when bad people are not adequately punished for things and the “people on top” get away with shit because they are powerful, athletic, or rich.  I got very worked up and had to stay up late to finish it because I couldn’t go to sleep not knowing the outcome of the book. Then when I did go to sleep I had agitating dreams.  All this is not to say this is not a good book.  It was beautifully written-the alternating chapters between Kurt and Danny not only tell two sides of a story, but also allow you to take a break from the emotions of one.  And what emotions there are! Anger, grief, power, powerlessness, are all wrapped up together.

Kurt is a huge football player who’s in foster care.  He is valued for his immense strength and size.  His facial scars and stutter are the clues that he is damaged on the inside as well.  Brutally abused in foster care he watched his best friend die.  Bulking up and playing football barely keeps him sane.

Danny is small and strong-an amazing gymnast.  Unfortunately, at his school gymnasts barely count as athletes-only the football players do.

Danny and Kurt become unlikely friends and are forever bound together when they witness the brutal rape and beating of one of Danny’s teammates by Kurt’s teammates.  This was literally painful to read.  Danny is small and Kurt is big, but both are held under the thumb of football captains (huge guys completely whacked out on the steroids the coaches give them.)

There is so much tragedy in this book that, again, it was really difficult to read.  However, what I really liked was the unlikely friendship between Danny and Kurt which did not mess with the reader by making it seem that one might betray the other, or that each would doubt the other one.  I also really liked seeing the gymnastics team bonding together with their rock climbing.  This was a really powerful book and really good.  Now I need to go read an incredibly light romance to make my mind relax a little!

Oh, and this was one of the YALSA Best of the Best books-I believe it was a Top Ten BFYA.  Also, it features one of the most ostentatious author photos ever.

 

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