Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Review: Level Up

Title: Level Up
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Artwork: Thien Pham
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: July 19, 2016 (Originally Published in 2011)
Source: Library

From Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and author of American Born Chinese, comes amagical realist coming-of-age tale, by turns whimsical and deadly serious.

Nothing is what it seems when life collides with video games.
Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents’ expectations: Stay focused in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, and become a gastroenterologist.

But between his father’s death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis can’t endure. He’s kicked out of college. And that’s when things get . . . weird.

Four adorable—but bossy—angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis’s life. He’s back on track to become a gastroenterologist. But is he living the life he wants?

Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.

My Review

Gene Yang is back again with another graphic novel that is sure to bring a smile to readers faces. Level Up is a classic coming-of-age tale about what it's like to grow up as an Asian American. In the novel, the main character Dennis has to make choices and sacrifices, and many of them are influenced by his family and their customs. But then things get a little weird... Will Dennis be able to fulfill his destiny, or will his own wants win out?

Level Up by Gene Yang is a rather short graphic novel, and because of that, my review might seem a bit shorter than usual. However, I feel like I have to be fair to both collaborators and review both the plot of the novel and the artwork separately.

The Novel

Level Up by Gene Yang is one of those novels that's kind of all over the place, but I really liked it because of that. 

The story starts off by showing us six-year-old Dennis Ouyang and his parents in the prologue of the novel. That same prologue continues until he is just about ready to graduate high school. Then the bulk of the story begins, and we see Dennis as a junior in college and follow him chronologically from there. Throughout such a short novel, Dennis experiences a lot of different life experiences. He goes through the death of a loved one, making and losing friends, college life, medical school, and a whole lot more. I never felt like it was too much, though. It was just enough story from Gene Yang, and I felt like a story like this could really happen to any person out there in the world.

I also really enjoyed the video game aspect of the book. Each different part of the book has video game elements to it, and readers will even notice that Dennis is losing lives in each level of the book. There are even times when Dennis imagines himself in video games, so it's definitely a book to check out, especially if you like old school video game systems.

The Artwork

I'm no artist, so I'm definitley not one to judge an artist's work, but I will say that I enjoyed the artwork in Level Up. I liked how I was clearly able to see when Pham and Yang were referring to a flashback or a point in the past because of the different uses of color (black and white, blue, or sephia tones). I also really liked how simple the artwork looks in the book. It's not too complicated, and it has a nice and informal feel that would catch any reader's eye.


All in all, I really enjoyed Dennis' story. I think that both Gene Yang and Thien Pham did a wonderful job at telling this coming-of-age novel, and I really think that teens and young adults will enjoy it. I would recommend this book to any reluctant reader or anyone interested in video games.

Gene Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he
received the Xeric Grant, a prestigious comics industry grant, for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan's Kingdom (with art by Derek Kirk Kim) and The Rosary Comic Book. American Born Chinese received National Book Award.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his lovely wife and children and teaches at a Roman Catholic high school.

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