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Level Up Paperback – June 7, 2011
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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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“Deliciously imaginative . . . uproariously funny . . . A book so good, it’s hard not to fall back on reviewers’ clichés.” ―The New York Times
“A manifesto for everyone who's ever wrestled with the expectations of their family, their friends, and their society (and who hasn't?), and it's ultimately both humane and inspiring.” ―Boing Boing
“A piquant, multilayered coming-of-age fable for the wired generation.” ―Kirkus Reviews--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
As an Asian and fast maturing one over 40 years of age and parent to two I've become tired of the trope the Asian immigrant parent's "sacrifices". This book is a hearty example of that exaggeration. The father got into medical school but had to drop out because of language barrier issues and the fact that his wife became inconveniently pregnant. Doesn't sound like a sacrifice to me, but it is pitched to the young protagonist is a great sacrifice. And he is guilt tripped into pursuing his father's failed dream. In the end he finds an area of medicine he excels in, but he unhappily wasted a year pursuing an area that literally made him barf.
I grew up with so much language about parental sacrifices, how hard they work, etc... but I'm not sure what had been sacrificed for me or my Asian friends growing up. Indeed some immigrants have come over and given up professional credentials of their home country because of qualification issues here, but there are many who haven't. They end up working menial jobs as they may well have back on their native soil. There are many immigrants and Americans who work menial jobs but don't guilt trip their children about having made sacrifices. Most Asian immigrant parents try to do best by their child and that is laudable, but to guilt trip about "sacrifices" is rather manipulative. We want to guide our children into making good decisions, and the protagonist ultimately found his niche on his own. The pushy parents created the video taboo by making it a forbidden fruit. I wouldn't be the first to say that many Asian immigrant children of a certain ilk are not allowed to have any fun (must learn to "eat bitterness" literally almost all the time) and this has detrimental effects.
If the protagonists parents were American they would be judged very differently. Living thru your child is not something we would call positive parenting.
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)