Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Leverage Book Poster Image
Powerful, perhaps too-intense tale of sports bullying.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Leverage presents a detailed look at what it takes to excel at either football or gymnastics. The scenes on the field and in the gym are especially  realistic and well described.

Positive Messages

Leverage emphasizes the importance of loyalty and bravery and of doing the right thing in difficult circumstances. Both Danny and Kurt have to learn to trust each other and stand together when it seems as if the entire community opposes them. By asking for help, they discover support in unexpected places.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Danny and Kurt demonstrate that outward appearances can be deceptive. Small and less developed than his peers, Danny has a core of emotional strength that eventually allows him to stand up for himself and others. With his facial scar and debilitating stutter, Kurt might seem like a menacing dumb jock, but inside he is vulnerable and empathetic.


Leverage contains a large amount of physical and emotional violence. Kurt is haunted by the memories of the abuse he withstood as a young child, which eventually led to the death by suffocation of his one friend. At Oregrove High, Danny and his teammates are tormented by members of the football squad. In the most disturbing episode (spoiler alert), a male first-year gymnast is forcibly sodomized and later commits suicide. As the plot progresses, there are beatings, threats with loaded guns, and intentional injuries on the playing field.


The inner circle of football players in Leverage treats girls, especially the cheerleaders, purely as sex objects. In one party scene, it is implied that Kurt hooks up with one young woman, who is never mentioned again. The only female character with much depth is Tina, the tough-but-good-hearted audio-visual expert who seems to have the beginnings of a crush on Kurt.


The language in Leverage is very strong and uncompromising, and its list of profanities is too long to enumerate. It includes "a--hole," "s--t," "p---y," and nearly every variation of "f--k," plus a variety of homophobic epithets like "faggot" and "pansy."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Members of the football squad, including one of the protagonists, use illegal steroids and drink alcohol. Some of the gymnasts smoke marijuana and drink. This behavior is mostly talked about, but there a few scenes where it is depicted directly.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Leverage doesn't pull many punches in its depiction of high school sports culture run amok. It features bullying, steroid use, teen drinking and pot use, a large amount of profanity, and a good deal of emotional and physical violence, including beatings, threats with loaded guns, and intentional injuries on the playing field. A male student is sexually assaulted, and there is a suicide.

User Reviews

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Teen, 16 years old Written byces5 April 27, 2020

Great Book

Its a good book with many great twists in the book with one graphic seen that really made the story in the book important.

What's the story?

Danny Meehan is a sophomore gymnast at his high school, proud of his talent, yet fearful of the older football jocks who push him around. New to the school, oversized fullback Kurt Brodsky is physically and mentally scarred by the abuse he endured in foster care. When a series of confrontations between the gymnasts and the football players escalates into tragic violence, Danny and Kurt must find a way to work together to save themselves and their friends.

Is it any good?

LEVERAGE is a thoughtful, suspenseful, and intense story of athletic rivalry and bullying run amok. The author, Joshua C. Cohen, does a fine job of presenting the story from two different perspectives and describing the physical realities of high-pressure football and gymnastics. The antagonists, however, are a little obvious in their villainy, and as the narrative speeds toward its climax, some readers will be able to guess the ending a few beats too early.

Leverage made the 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list, compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Leverage demonstrates how sports rivalries can get out of hand. What can schools do to promote better relationships between athletes, members of other teams, and non-athletes?

  • What are some of the effects of steroid use? Why are these drugs especially dangerous for teens?

  • What are some of the consequences of keeping secrets, like a number of the characters do? Do you think that honesty is always the best policy?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love school stories

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