Tag Archives: Leverage

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

leverageBibliographic Information:

Cohen, J. (2011). Leverage. New York: Dutton Books.(0525423060)

Plot Summary:

Danny has a plan to get to college and away from the life he hates. To succeed, he has to focus on his gymnastics; despite the fact that gymnastics falls far down the totem pole of school funding. Football is the program that garners all the community support and, therefore, all the money. It’s tough enough being the underdog. Being a target for the football team’s bullying just comes with the territory.

In fact, that football money is what has brought newcomer, Kurt, to the school. Kurt has a history that he wants to hide and he, too, hopes to gain a future for himself through a sport – football. Kurt soon realizes that getting his dream may mean stepping on some other students who are weaker and more vulnerable.

When a series of escalating pranks end in a suicide, Danny and Kurt have to decide what happens now.

Critical Evaluation:

Cohen has done a credible job in creating two distinct voices in his characters of Danny and Kurt. Kurt’s history of abuse provides a strong foundation for explaining his grim focus on football as well as his admiration for the smaller and equally talented gymnasts. Danny’s backstory underscores his determination to get as far away from his hometown that he can.

Cohen has provided an interesting juxtaposition of strong and weak within both of his main and secondary characters. Indeed, Danny and Kurt are excellent examples of the flawed hero. For example, although physically strong with an impressive football build, Kurt has been emotionally and psychologically scarred because of the abuse he suffered in his past. Although intelligent, he appears to be slow because of his stutter and lack of social skills. Despite of growing up in poverty and abuse, Kurt has a strong moral code that he must struggle to reconcile with the realities of his situation.

The reader is led to compare Kurt and his flaws to the other football stars who have been made into heroes by a community steeped in a winning football tradition. These secondary characters by all appearances are strong, successful and popular. But, as the story progresses, the reader is introduced to the ugly world of bullying, steroids, and ego.

Although similar in their focus on escaping their respective situations, these two main characters have very distinct voices and through their respective lenses, the underbelly of competitive sports is revealed. Ultimately, this is a story of personal responsibility, choice, and accountability.

Reader’s Annotation:

When an escalating series of pranks and bullying causes the death of a student, two students have to decide whether the truth is more important than their future dreams.

Leverage is a gritty and violent tale full of the glory of football and the fear of being the underdog; where the good guy does not always win and right is relative.

Information About the Author:

Joshua C. Cohen played many sports while he was growing up in Minnesota. His favorite sport was gymnastics but he did not have the right body type to perform at an elite level. Instead, he was able to take his training in a different direction and became a dancer.

Cohen stared writing Leverage when he read about an attack on a group of underclassmen by their senior teammates. He says that when the victims came forward, they were verbally attacked by the community for “sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season” (Cohen)

For more information about Joshua Cohen, visit his website http://www.leveragethebook.com/


  • Realistic
  • Sports

Curriculum Ties:

  • Identity
  • Character development, voice
  • Choice

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Rape
  • Bullying
  • Suicide

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    1. Ask if he/she has read the book
    2. Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    1. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion       documents
    2. Provide school’s selection policy
    3. Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this book?:

In all honestly, I do not like this book. I appreciate the different voices of Kurt and Danny. I also believe that Cohen has told a story that needs to be told. His focus on football and the hype and pressures young men are under to succeed – even to the detriment of their health – should be told.


  • Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011),
  • YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults (2012)
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults


  • Kraus, D. (2010). Leverage. Booklist, 107(8), 45.
  • Leverage. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(24), 1265.
  • Wilson, B. (2011). Leverage. Booklist, 107(18), 5