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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughing, laughing, laughing, oh shoot . . . I'm crying.
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...
Published on June 12, 2011 by H. Johnson

versus
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Reworking of the 2nd Generation Immigrant Story
The story of the Americanized children of immigrants chafing under parental expectations to succeed is a long-standing trope in American literature and film. There's been umpteen novels, films, and memoirs built around this theme. This graphic novel follows the rough template, taking the kid's perspective and casting the parents as villains who expect their children to be...
Published on June 16, 2011 by A. Ross


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughing, laughing, laughing, oh shoot . . . I'm crying., June 12, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for Advanced 9 year-olds, filled w/ "teachable moments", August 8, 2013
This review is from: Level Up (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling coming-of-age story, July 7, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (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
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly compelling Bildungsroman with video games, June 30, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful story and excellent art that will resonate with fathers and sons everywhere, June 8, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
You don't need to be a gamer to appreciate and enjoy Level Up. The story is universal--primal--and speaks to the truth of what it means to be both a father and a son. It's a story of personal discovery and filial piety, handled well with humor and nostalgia.

Reluctant overachiever Dennis Ouyang has been groomed, since birth, to become a doctor--not just any doctor, a highly specialized gastroenterologist. Dennis, however, would rather play video games. Dennis becomes obsessed with video games, but he lives in the shadow of his parent's--and his father's--expectations. The weight of these expectations and early family tragedy take their toll on Dennis as he abandons his father's wishes to become a doctor by experimenting heavily with gaming, eventually allowing the games to consume his life, which has devolved into a sedentary, 8-bit bacchanalia. Dennis becomes consumed by playing video games and his academic future is now in jeopardy. However, a visit by four bright, determined, chiibi-esque angels steers Dennis back on the path toward medical school and family honor, proclaiming to him that becoming a doctor is his destiny. These seemingly righteous angels help Dennis to discover for himself what his destiny is. Using video games as a gimmick, Level Up is ultimately the story of a son trying to forge his own life while honoring the love and expectations of his parents.

Like Yang's other works, the protagonist is an unassuming, likable fellow whose internal conflicts manifest as surreal, whimsical totems of childhood. And, like his other works, popular culture references and stylized, contemporary dialogue help to reinterpret stories and struggles that have been going on for generations. What makes Level Up such a particularly powerful tale is that the age-old conflict between fathers and sons is given a fresh context when the story of the immigrant father is revealed.

Similar to the characters in Level Up, the art by Thien Pham is deceptively simple and unassuming. This style works particularly well with the angels, who are cute and easy to underestimate. Thien Pham, in the simplest of panels, is able to convey powerful, pure expressions of bitterness, guilt, contentment, and longing in his characters' faces.

Overall, while marketed as a book for young adults, Level Up makes a great read for adults, especially those of us in the X and Y generations. It will also make a great Father's Day gift for hip, geek dads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's Time to Level Up to Another Great Graphic Novel, January 16, 2012
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
Do you follow your dream or your family's? That is the question that Dennis Ouyang is asking himself as he debates his future. His father had wanted him to be a doctor - specifically, a gastroenterologist. But Dennis has a love, and a talent, for video games. At a major crossroads in his life, four angels come into his life to guide him along the straight and narrow. Sometimes sweet, sometimes terrifying, they want to make sure that Dennis fulfills his destiny.

This is not Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham's first graphic novel. They gained critical acclaim with their previous graphic novel, American Born Chinese (which is on my TBR list). But it is definitely a fantastic look at balancing the desires of our families with the desires of ourselves.

I'll admit that this gave me a glimpse into a life that is incredibly foreign to me. My parents had always wanted me to do what made me happy, and I've found myself doing the same with my boys. So to have a parent basically mapping out the future of their child seems wrong. It always had. But reading through this, seeing the bits of the why's behind the push by Dennis' father for his son to be a doctor. This book was more than just entertainment for me. It was also an enlightening book.

The artwork is much cruder than anything I find within the pages of a DC comic, but it fit well with the story of a kid obsessed with video games. For all that the black line artwork isn't masterful, it tells the story that it needs to. It made the story feel more like a boy telling his story rather than a piece of fiction. And I liked that.

The story itself was a wonderful journey, from the first moment Dennis saw a Pac-Man machine until the last panel where he showed what he can do. My heart broke when Dennis gave away his gaming systems. I wanted to smack him up along side the head when he was clueless. And the angels... they scared me pretty bad sometimes as well.

This is definitely one of the best non-super hero graphic novels I've read in a long time. While not a favorite of the level of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, it's still a wonderful read and a must for any geek grappling between what they should do and what they want to do.

*Note: This book was won in the Goodreads.com First Reads Giveaway. I received a copy of this book without requirement of reviewing it, but I'm glad to be able to do so anyway.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A poignant little entertainment snack, July 23, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
With its Game Boy-lookalike cover design, this book instantly grabbed my attention as I passed by it on the display at my local bookstore. What's inside the cover is a unique and diverting little story sure to appeal to any gamer, but with deeper and more universal themes that make the book worth reading for anyone.

Protagonist Dennis Ouyang has grown up under the burden of his Asian immigrant parents' high expectations. When his father passes away, Dennis seeks solace by losing himself in the video games his demanding parents never allowed him to have as a child, and his lack of focus and gaming "addiction" soon winds up jeopardizing his college career. Just when things seem darkest, Dennis is visited by a quartet of pint-size angels like the ones on the condolence card he received at his father's funeral. With the assistance of his heavenly helpers, Dennis rededicates himself to his studies, determined to fulfill his "destiny" of medical school and a career as a gastroenterologist. But how long will his devotion last? And are his motivations for changing the course of his life truly valid?

What begins as a seemingly run-of-the-mill story of a young slacker trying to get it together soon threatens to become a narrative heavyweight. The revelation of the truth about Dennis' "guardian angels" is genuinely surprising. The parts dealing with Dennis' childhood and relationship with his father, as well as what readers come to learn about the past of the elder Mr. Ouyang and what led him to demand so much of his son, are poignant and emotionally impacting. The choices Dennis makes in response and the unexpected ending provoke thought about the motivational difficulties of choosing one's goals in life and the dangers inherent in trying to do the "right" thing for the wrong reasons.

Gene Luen Yang's involving story is nicely supported by the artwork of Thien Pham. Pham's style is simple, with a muted color palette, and rarely attracts the read to linger over any particular image, but is well suited to the substance and tone of Yang's story.

Really, the biggest criticism which can be leveled against Level Up is that it is too short. The narrative is lean but well-crafted, and nothing about it feels rushed or underdeveloped. However, the fact is that it can easily be read in its entirety in twenty minutes. Level Up is 160 pages long and feels significantly shorter, as Pham's artwork generally uses a small number of relatively large panels on each page, with sizable margins. Readers looking for a graphic novel that will engross them for hours (or even a single hour) would be advised to look elsewhere.

But all things considered, the ten dollars and eighty-seven cents which Amazon is asking for the book is not too much for this soulful little volume, which will make a unique addition to any graphic novel library. Although it can be read quickly, Level Up makes a strong impression, and while it may not be endlessly re-readable or likely to make you flip through the pages admiring its visuals, the emotional and thematic notes it strikes will stick with you for some time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Coffee For The Brain Book Reviews, June 23, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
I have not posted a book review in quite some time or at least it seems like a long time. I just have not been able to find the time needed to get the reading done. Plus, being summer I usually don't read much YA as I just need a break from this genre after reading it all school year.

However, I was excited to read this graphic novel. The cover alone was enough to sell me as it brought back my memories of playing on my Gameboy for hours and hours and hours. Man, how times have changed in the gaming world, but the Gameboy was unstoppable for a long time.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. I read it in one sitting one morning when I awoke before the rest of the crew. I sat on my deck with my coffee and breezed right through this. I really became in tune with the main character as he was trying to balance the tough decisions of life - living the life you want or living the life your parents want. As we grow up this is a tough decision. Early on we often think we have everything figured out and that is not always the case. Without parents who knows where some of us would end up. However, as we continue to grow up, leave high school, and enter college we start to understand the world and ourselves. This book does a great job touching upon how we just need to do what makes us happy. As parents it is a good reminder to make sure we prepare our kids to make their own decisions and not try to dictate their lives. Both are very hard.

The illustrations were great. I like the style and art. I enjoyed how as the main character went through the different phases of life it was breached by "Level One, Level Two...." just like in a video game. The dialogue was great. I actually wrote down a few phrases to use in some future blog posts as I found myself really thinking about some of the comments of the characters.

The one thing that I understood why they were there, but got on my nerves after a little while were the angels. It all makes sense when you read, but for part of the reading I was like, "Why are they being used again?" Once you read, then you will understand the meaning behind them and it works well.

This is another great graphic novel. I am slowly enjoying these more and more as I pick these up to read every so often. This is another one that rather surprised me and recommend to anyone. And yes, it did cause me to pull out my old Gameboy from storage and give it a try.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Reworking of the 2nd Generation Immigrant Story, June 16, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
The story of the Americanized children of immigrants chafing under parental expectations to succeed is a long-standing trope in American literature and film. There's been umpteen novels, films, and memoirs built around this theme. This graphic novel follows the rough template, taking the kid's perspective and casting the parents as villains who expect their children to be grateful for the parental sacrifice that brought them to their new country. Here we meet American teen Dennis, whose Chinese father insists that he go to medical school and succeed as a gastroenterologist. Unfortunately, Dennis is more interested in video games than school, well... more than anything really.

Like all too many boys, his schoolwork suffers at the expense of all-night Nintendo sessions, and before long, he's flunking out of college. But when his father dies, four angels appear and help to put him back on the path of academic success and med school. He makes friends with some fellow students and before long he seems to be doing well. But is gastroenterology really his destiny? And just where did these angels come from and why? Dennis has to confront these questions and more, as he struggles to figure out who he really is.

The story unfolds within a kind of videogame framework (sections are presented as "Levels") and at certain moments when Dennis isn't true to himself, a little icon appears to show that he's lost a life (as in a game). There are some other gamer conceits throughout, and that works well with the magical nature of some of the story elements. Yang manages to take a familiar story and give it a fresh gamer-geek packaging, which, when combined with the watercolor and ink art (which are kind of lackluster to my mind), make the story worth checking out. It's definitely going to appeal to those already predisposed to graphic novels and computer games, but feels too minor to connect with a broader audience.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fairy Tale in Comic Form, August 12, 2011
This review is from: Level Up (Paperback)
The premise itself is something that's starting to get done to death: a college burnout struggles to find his purpose in life. However, unlike most attempts, "Level Up" keeps its story rather straightforward - neither coming off as too preachy or too simplistic.

As a fellow Asian American, I can relate to the main character and the constant pressure of getting some kind of successful job as defined by his parents. However, the parents in the story are never written in a way that you'd view them as the antagonists of the story, coming off as more like parents that care too much. A similar amount of care is given to other characters in the story, having certain quirks you could provide them, but keeping realistic enough that they don't come off as a straight-up stereotype. A similar thing can be said about the art style: simple, crisp, but able to capture the essence of each character at their core.

The story itself is a short read, but is well worth it. The overall tone comes off like a fairy tale, with its casual fantastic elements, while still providing something of a lesson by the end of the reading. However, that's not to say that "Level Up" is essentially a story with an obvious moral told with the help of an excessive amount of videogame references. On the contrary, videogame references are used sparingly, with a somewhat open-ended ending, leaving some aspects to the story up in the air, which works well for a story like this.

Definitely worth the purchase!
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Level Up
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang (Paperback - June 7, 2011)
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