Saturday, November 03, 2012

Book Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Book: Leverage
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

At Oregrove High School, the football players are gods. It's the accepted social order. But Danny and the rest of the men's gymnastics team have decided they're not going to take it anymore. Pranks and bullying escalate until the three football co-captains viciously gang-rape a freshman gymnast, and their victim kills himself.

Besides the gymnastics captain, the only witnesses to the crime were Danny and Kurt, the incredibly talented new fullback that Danny has been building a tentative and unlikely friendship with. They know that they should speak out, but it seems as if the kings of the school hold all the power against them. Can they defeat their personal demons and show the world that everybody, even an athletic god, has to answer for their actions?

In many ways this was an incredibly disturbing book. Given the topic, I knew it would be, but I was unprepared for how intense it was. At one point, I had to set the book down and go do other things for awhile. Not during the rape, as you might think, but shortly afterward, when the football coach is spewing all manner of idiotic filth about the suicide of Ronnie Gunderson, painting him as a weakling who couldn't handle everyday life and his football players as the upstanding young men who will heal the community via football victory. You get a glimpse into how these narcissistic young men have come to believe that they can do whatever they want without consequences, because the adults in their life have taught them that athletic prowess equals moral superiority, which equals untouchability.

For me, one of the finest parts of the book lay in the believability of Danny and Kurt's friendship. After some initial wariness, they enjoy and respect each other for their differences and their similarities.

There's something almost cartoonish about the final showdown, which ends with the three rapists and the coaches who enabled their behavior being literally booed off the field by an entire field full of football fans, but I have yet to decide whether that's good or bad. On one hand, arrests all around might have better fit the serious and terrible nature of the act that was committed. On the other, the depth of that humiliation, in the place where they were so recently gods, might have been the strongest punishment that fate could dole out.

That quibble aside, this was an intense, unsettling, thought-provoking book.

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