Or the best reason to cheat on your summer reading list: a really good book!
Leverage is Joshua C. Cohen’s first novel. I must admit that I love reading first novels. There is so much potential and they often offer so many surprises. Many first novels tend not to be stuck in the YA genre–they are simply good books published for young adults. This is not a good book, nor a great book–it is an incredible book.
The cover gives a great impression of the book: strong, with some content that is very real (like those veined arms) but often borders on nauseating. At least for me. This is the story of Danny, a gymnast, and Kurt, a football player who narrate alternating chapters. Danny is a small kid, loves gymnastics, struggles at home because his father has basically checked out. Kurt is a big guy with a stutter who has been sent through a lot of foster homes and has seen a lot of ugly situations. Since this story is about bullying we expect Kurt to be the bully and Danny to be the victim. Fortunately for us, this isn’t entirely true. The football players do abuse the gymnasts–physically, verbally, etc. But the football players aren’t too keen on Kurt either with his stutter and his desire to not be an idiot all of the time.
The leaders of the football team–the quarterback, etc.–do not come off well in this book. But they put themselves in that position, being macho men, taking the “vitamins” the coach offers, bullying whoever they can in whatever way they can. Including Kurt, whose stutter does not allow him to escape the bullying, despite his football connection. Cohen portrays the stutter well, it doesn’t take over conversation or make the book painful to read. It just is. Of course, this could be due to the fact that the stutter often keeps Kurt from speaking out loud, true for many stutterers in the fish bowl that is high school. Anyone who was no the top dog in high school will recognize the story being told in this book. Even when it’s ugly, it’s like watching a train wreck. You just keep on turning the pages, hoping the end will not bring despair (mild spoiler: there is some hope).
The only parts I got lost in involved football. Make no mistake–athletics play a huge role in this book. Kurt plays some sort of role on the football team that doesn’t really matter if you don’t like football (he’s not the quarterback, that I know). But if you know football or you like football, you might get even more out of the book than I did. Knowing gymnastics events helps, too.
Bottom line: For people who like a well-written book that rings true and does not leave out the ugly parts. (Ugly parts include verbal, physical and sexual abuse; murder; suicide; steroids–I think that’s about it, just FYI.)