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Powerful, perhaps too-intense tale of sports bullying.

What parents need to know

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

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."

Not applicable
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.

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.

Kids say

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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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Joshua C. Cohen
Topics:Sports and martial arts, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dutton Books
Publication date:February 17, 2012
Number of pages:304

This review of Leverage was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byxcmomof3 January 13, 2016

Don't read this book!

I read this book because it was on Oklahoma's Sequoyah Book list. I could not believe that this book was selected as a book that teachers and librarians are supposed to recommend to high school students. It talks about a high school boy being raped, with a broom handle, by other high school boys! the student that knew about the rape do not report it to anyone. the rape victim kills himself and still no one reports what they know about the rape. I was APPALLED!!! I am a high school library assistant, we pulled all the copies of this book off the shelf
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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