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Level Up Paperback – June 7, 2011

23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Yang, writer-artist of National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, writes this magical-realist tale of Asian-American parental pressure and video-game escape, leaving the art to up-and-comer Pham. Dennis Ouyang struggles with the burden of his dead father's orders that he study hard, go to med school, and become a gastroenterologist. When Dennis, inspired by four mysterious angels, gives up his passion—video games—and buckles down to his studies, he befriends three fellow second-generation students and begins to make a place in med school. But a crisis in confidence reveals the true nature of his guardian angels, and the real source of his father's dreams for his only son. Pham's watercolors can be charming, but his primarily gray and brown palette gets visually monotonous; thankfully, his work increases in energy as the plot does. Yang's familiar story of immigrant striving and filial rebellion gets just enough juice from its connection to arcade culture. A bravura storytelling and visual twist near the end brings together the plot's several strands. A minor work from Yang, but a welcome introduction to Pham, whose own upcoming First Second graphic novel, Sumo, looks promising. (June)
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From the Author

How do you decide what to do with your life? This question took up much of my head space when I was in my late teens, and it's also the central question of this book. This is video games vs. med school- a tale inspired by my brother (a medical doctor) and illustrated by my brother-in-cartooning Thien Pham (not a medical doctor).

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 360L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: First Second (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596432357
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596432352
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By H. Johnson on June 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Gene Yang once again delivers a fun story that sneaks up on you and breaks your heart. I don't know how he keeps doing it, but he does.

The story is fresh and funny, while still making you want to have a better relationship with your father and/or son.

The artwork by Thien Pham is fantastic. Understated, but still beautiful and confident.

I'm not a gamer, or male, or Asian-American, or a gastroenterologist, and I still found the characters engaging and lovable. It's the kind of book that made me think. Then made me smile.

It's a great feel-good book. I can't wait to read it again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dux on August 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
My smarty-pants nine year-old adores this book -- it'd come up on a "recommended for you" page here on Amazon so I got it. He read it a few times one afternoon, so I grabbed it for a quick read as well. From my adult perspective I found it charming with more than a touch of melancholy.

Beautifully written and beautifully drawn.

In general the maturity of the book is (clearly) beyond a nine year-old, but it proved great fodder for us to talk at the dinner table about what we'd read and taken away from "Level Up." What parents of any / all nationalities / ethnicities / cultures want for their children and what children themselves want.

First generation Chinese-American Dennis is a college kid who loves to play video games and that's what he wants to pursue. His parents have other ideas, and because they are native Chinese they are not as touchy-feely as either Americans or the younger set. All Dennis hears is that he needs to be a dutiful son and that what he wants doesn't matter ... to *them*. It matters to him, but he tries to appease them.

He flunks out of undergrad but miraculously makes it back in and then goes on to medical school. He makes three good friends there and he seems to feel connected, even if his heart isn't in medicine.

The story is surprisingly quick considering how much ground it covers and how much Dennis learns about his parents, himself, and his true desires. As a parent (nevermind as a reader) I liked that. I liked that Dennis tried different things. I liked that Dennis is smart. I liked that he made smart friends of different races / genders.

"Level Up" makes me glad I went ahead and got a few other books by the author, too. Highly recommend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DJ Joe Sixpack HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Level Up"
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Illustrated by Thien Pham
(First Second, 2011)
Having established his graphic novel street cred with the powerful "American Born Chinese," Gene Luen Yang has emerged as one of the premiere comicbook artists of his generation. In this new story, Yang turns the illustrations over to Thien Pham, whose simple, zine-ish style may be off-putting for fans of Yang's sleeker, smooth-lined graphics, but the disappointment only lasts a second or two: one page into this fast-moving fictional memoir and you will be hooked. Yang and Thien Pham hit a perfect groove, and you'll find it hard to put this book down; it's a compelling, compulsive read.

The story revolves around Dennis Ouyang, an Asian-American kid who discovers his life's calling the first time he sees a video game. At least *he* thinks it's his life's calling: his parents are horrified to see him wasting his time, and unflinchingly push him to excel academically. Dennis rebels against this classic, hard-working immigrant narrative and subsumes himself in video games, but the story takes an abrupt twist when he abandons his slacker-geek lifestyle for some unexpected reasons. The book uses the comicbook format to its fullest potential, disarming readers with deceptive simplicity, while sliding through time and reality with the sort of ease that only this medium can produce. The "Asian-ness" of the story is underplayed: it's there, but not explicitly delved into -- anyone with pushy, loving parents can identify with Dennis and his dilemma. This is a subtle but strange, surprisingly mature story, a quick read and definitely recommended! (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Neurasthenic VINE VOICE on June 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
I expected a trite story about a boy growing up with video games, and Level Up starts as such, but quickly demonstrates itself to be more sophisticated than I had expected. The plot relates a young man's struggles in school and, to a lesser degree with girls, as he is powerfully distracted (seduced?) by games. Thematically, the book involves our obligations to our parents, and our children, and whether one can be happy following a path dictated by guilt.

The book has a major element of magical realism that involves the author's sense of obligation to his dead father manifested as greeting card angels who help him through school. The reader feels conflicted seeing them, knowing they are pushing him in a good direction, but that he may never be happy unless he pursues these ends for better reasons. This is ultimately resolved in a way that is natural, and yet surprising and quite moving.

Video games recur in the story, but ultimately this book is far greater than any book just about gaming could be.
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