Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: Leverage by Joshua Cohen

This review is written by Cathy Airhart Webb.  She is an amazing library worker from the West Monroe Branch.  She does everything from story time with the children to hosting awesome programs from teens like Reader's Theater, Game Nights, and Craft Nights.  She has even started displaying teens artwork in the Corner Gallery at the WM Branch Library. 
Thanks Cathy for your Book Review and thanks for all you do at the WM Library!

The book reviewer wears RED for the sports novel Leverageby Joshua C. Cohen.

Paperback, 432 pages
Published September 27th 2012 by Speak
Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, (Dutton, Feb. 2011)  is a sports book for EVERYBODY from 10th grade to age 99. First glimpse of Leverage: a cover pic of a pumped uplifted male forearm and fist, veins standing out like tough ivy on a tree trunk. After seeing the cover, a reader just has to pick up and read, no football, gymnastics or wii experience needed. From a December review in Kirkus, the World’s Toughest Book Critics:

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. (Kirkus review)

Danny, the gymnast:  …(with) forty-five seconds until the bell releases us, I begin tracing around Glory’s spilled goldilocks to stay awake….A guy who looks like he’s been through puberty three times—while I’m still waiting for my first shot—walks through the door with muscles stacked on him like blocks.  The guy actually has sideburns and chin whiskers.  Chin whiskers!  Though he tries to hide it with an overgrown mop falling over his face, I can see a scar traveling from the outside corner of his eye down to his heavy jaw….The guy looks tough, setting off my internal alert.  Everyone knows a guiding principle of underclassmen survival is identifying dangerous upperclassmen….I slouch down in my desk and hope that when Kurt Brodsky gets expelled for slaughtering a couple of underclassmen, it isn’t my corpse they’ll find hanging in his locker. (from Leverage.)

Kurt, the football player:   “Getting bigger, faster, stronger comes as natural to me as stuttering.  When you got no money and home sucks, the free community gym and library are what’s to do besides watching TV….mostly I hit the weights.  First time I ever tried it, I took to weight lifting.  All I ever needed to know was that it made you bigger and stronger.  And if you got big enough, you’d never suffer someone else’s temper again….I look across the line and see Studblatz and Peters itching to double-team me now that they know the play, both grinning through their masks, both hungry to flatten me….The right toe of my cleat digs into the turf, creating a starting block….Quarterback calls out his cadence, then lets loose one sharp cry.  I hear no more.  My thighs expand as I lower, understanding all about LEVERAGE….My shoulder catches his gut while Peters tries wrapping me up at the calves….I ride big boy onto his back, body-slamming him onto the grass….First sound coming through my helmet’s ear hole is a satisfying “Ooofff!” (from Leverage.)

The story unfolds in Danny and Kurt’s voices in alternate chapters.  And although what Kirkus goes on to say about the story-telling is true:

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. 

High-school aside, this mature librarian can favorably compare Leverage to the adult novelist Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons which blasts big college sports in something of the same manner.  Think of the movie Friday Night Lights with gripping sequences of football AND gymnastics.

The game sequences are well done, and there is plenty of authentic locker-room talk, (and be warned) some of it racist and homophobic. Kurt and his struggles are heartbreakingly real, and readers will pull for him long after the story ends. (Fiction. 14 & up)

This book reviewer couldn’t put the book down!  Kurt, Danny and several other sympathetic characters remain in mind.  Mature librarian also had a GREAT time describing Leverage to a real live football player from WMHS, who checked it out after recommending to me his favorite sports novel, Gym Candy, by Carl Deuker, Houghton-Miflin, 2007. (Which, come to think of it, wasn’t a bad read either.)
Cathy W.  West Monroe Branch

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