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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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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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I read this book in one late-night sitting. At the end, I felt glad to have met these characters and explored their lives. Video games are rarely the subject in good literature, or even a good story, but this makes an exception. A must-read for anyone who has lived their teenage years trying to escape parental expectations through video games.
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.
The art was minimalist, with a charmingly simple style of its own. The text was easy-to-read, with most of it large enough so I did not have to squint. I enjoyed the full-color pages, and feel that it was worth the price of almost seventeen dollars—a little more than I usually shell our for a book, especially on a whim.
The plot itself is fun, though begins darkly. The story opens with Dennis, the protagonist, being let down and pushed to succeed by his father on different occasions. Then, his father dies suddenly within the first few pages. Uncertain of his future, Dennis becomes fully immersed in the digital world of videogames. He barely skates through college and is forced to drop out, when he finds himself bequeathed a quadruplet of “angels”. The angels do all of his chores: they cook, they clean and do laundry, and they even make him flashcards and study guides. The scenario sounds too good to be true for any college student—So where does it go? I suggest picking up this book to find out more.
While reading the book, I experienced feelings of both melancholy and familiarity. Having grown up as the product of two very successful doctors, the story really got me. In my family, there was always a big push towards science, specifically medicine. It was never my thing, but I felt a duty to study the field, nonetheless. The pressure and unhappiness that Dennis feels ring true. Everyone must find their path on their own.
While the plot is balanced, some topics are a little rushed. If I had to choose one subject that could have used more story time, it would be Dennis’s relationship with Ipsha. I personally wanted to know more. She never confesses her feelings and we are left hanging at the end. I felt badly for her during the story and believe she should have been given more time, especially as she was his first college friend. It almost felt as though the author was neglecting her by not letting us know how she is doing at the end of the book.
Overall, this book was an inspiring look at the life of a burned-out college student. His rise to full potential is earned, not freely given, and his reconciliation with his father is touching. Often, parents truly do the best they can in both life and death.
Most recent customer reviews
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...Read more