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Level Up Hardcover – June 7, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 24 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)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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). --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: First Second (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596437146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596437142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dennis Ouyang has a passion for playing video games. And he's great at it too! But then...four somewhat adorable, yet really bossy angels show up, and tell Dennis that his destiny is to become a doctor and that he needs to give up his passion. So...Dennis reluctantly gives his gaming stuff over to his best friend, buckles down and studies, heads to medical school and hooks up with a crew to study with. But a crisis of confidence reveals what the angels truly are and Dennis begins to question whether he should follow his passion or his destiny...or an entirely new path.

Gene Luen Yang creates a compelling and captivating story that puts a new twist on two old genres, coming of age and father/son relationships. Gene creates compelling characters that are easy to recognize and relate too, because regardless of your age, race, gender you can recognize some aspect of your own life in Dennis and his dad's. Perhaps you've even had the same types of conversations with your parents (hopefully without the bossy angels standing by.) Thien Pham, a relative newcomer to the field, creates beautiful and captivating watercolor illustrations to accompany the tale. While the illustrations may not have a lot of details or secrets hidden in them, they work perfectly with the story--especially when it comes to the bossy angels.

A wonderful story and well worth adding to any collection.
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