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Level Up

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  4,556 Ratings  ·  630 Reviews
Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents' expectations. His path is laid out for him: stay focused in high school, become a gastroenterologist. It may be hard work, but it isn't complicated … until suddenly it is.

Between his father's death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis is nowhere near where his fami
Paperback, 160 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by First Second (first published 2011)
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The Holy Terror
It pisses me off when people vilify video games. You can go to med school and play games during your down-time. My brother is in grad school and he still finds time for his hobbies. Video games are not some evil time-waster that'll rot your brain, preventing you from graduating or excelling in school. You don't have to give up something you love to become a grown-up, and I find it insulting that this book insinuates that only lazy people who don't want to get ahead in life would play video games ...more
Jan Philipzig
Level Up tells the story of a young Asian American torn between his passion for video games and his sense of obligation towards his parents, and it touches upon several potentially interesting topics: the meaning of family and community in an increasingly individualized society, the growing pressure to attend higher education, the delayed transition to adulthood, and the role of commercial culture in all this. Unfortunately, the book does not really have all that much to say about any of these t ...more
Seth T.
Sep 19, 2011 Seth T. rated it liked it
Shelves: comics
There was this one scene in Gene Yang's Level Up that struck truer for me than maybe any other two-panel pair in the history of comics. In it, a friend describes the Nintendo Entertainment System to a young Dennis. Let's listen in:

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham

The reason this scene resonated so strongly with me was that this was word for word my own response to the discovery that such a machine would be coming to American shores. I mean, give or take a word. The impact of gaming systems on my young life was indelible, stampi
Jan 06, 2012 Justin rated it really liked it
This trim little graphic novel has been picking up some buzz, much like everything else that Gene Luen Yang does. Plus, the cover looks like a classic Game Boy. Win. Seriously, though, I was pleasantly surprised by this graphic novel. What looked like and began as a familiar story about a disillusioned young person finding solace in video games turned into a quirky, profound morality play about coming to terms with your family and creating your own destiny.

Dennis Ouyang is on the verge of being
Kim Clifton
Dec 26, 2016 Kim Clifton rated it really liked it
An adorable, quick read that features a surprising amount of poop.
KB Wayne
Aug 08, 2013 KB Wayne rated it really liked it
My smarty-pants nine year-old adores this book -- it'd come up on a "recommended for you" page 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 "
Rebecca (whymermaids)
Mar 08, 2016 Rebecca (whymermaids) rated it it was ok
After having read American Born Chinese earlier this year, I was excited to pick up more of Gene Luen Yang’s work. I loved the simple art style, the Asian-American characters and themes, and the simple yet effective story.

Level Up hit those marks, but not quite to the extent American Born Chinese did. While it still focused on family and dynamics of the culture (this time discussing youth culture rather than that of Asian-Americans, though there is a bit of that as well), it didn’t resonate quit
Jul 13, 2016 Julia rated it liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels, 2016
I liked the concepts with gaming and destiny. It definitely gives an interesting point of view on those two topics in particular.
Rain Misoa
Nov 21, 2011 Rain Misoa rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Gamers and people who love graphic novels!
Recommended to Rain by: Library
Shelves: graphic-novels
This is my second graphic novel that I've read by Gene Luen Yang, the first being American Born Chinese and it does NOT disappoint. I first heard of this comic from a YouTube video a few years back and I knew, me being a gamer, I would love this tremendously. After I read American Born Chinese and saw how much I enjoyed that story, it was a given that I was going to LOVE this book~ Well, the other day, I'm browsing the library and, lo and behold, there it was! On the shelf! In all its glory! I w ...more
Chris Walker
Dec 19, 2016 Chris Walker rated it it was ok
Shelves: comics-and-art
I had a lot of hope for this book, as it touches on a number of topics that I find really interesting. Specifically, I'm interested in stories where characters struggle to find what it is they're passionate about in life while navigating the expectations of others, especially parents. Also, growing up in the 90s, I strongly relate to video games, to the way they can become an all-consuming world.

Unfortunately, I feel as though the story never really dug into its themes. There's a lot of untapped
A coming of age story about a young man who struggles to fulfill his destiny. From a young age he is interested in video games, but his father doesn't support this hobby. When his father passes away while the young man is still in high school he delays the grieving process with hardcore gaming.

Years pass and the young man is flunking college. A band of angels appear and help steer the boy to his destiny: med school so he can become a gastroenterologist and help save people from suffering the wa
Oct 07, 2011 Sesana rated it really liked it
Written by the author of American Born Chinese, and illustrated by Thien Pham, Level Up tells the story of an Asian American man (Dennis) torn between the expectations of his family (in this case, to be a doctor) and following his own passion (in this case, video games). Pushing him further are four adorable greeting card angels who "help" him to concentrate on his destiny. I like it when an author uses elements of speculative fiction to talk about real world issues, and does it well. This is on ...more
Nov 05, 2011 Jason rated it liked it
About once a year I check out a stack of graphic novels from the library and go on a comics bender. Level Up was on top of the stack today, and it was a quick, fun read with a lot of strengths. The story takes some unexpected turns (including an element of magical realism) that keep you guessing, and there's an emotional core to the story (in the form of a card given to the main character by his father) that's really moving. Then there's the ending, which is priceless.

I think this would be an e
Dec 28, 2015 Sasha rated it really liked it
Cool concept - a son of Asian immigrants who have lived lives of "eating bitterness" is torn between his father's wish for him to pursue his "destiny" of becoming a gastroenterologist and his all-consuming need to play video games. The magical realism elements and the sparse watercolor art style allowed the emotional aspect to come through, since it gave me time to think about what was happening without overwhelming with a complicated style. I wish it was longer and explored the side relationshi ...more
Jan 13, 2011 Whitney rated it really liked it
Dennis Ouyang struggles to live up to his parents' high expectations through college and med school when all he really wants to do is play video games. With a little help from a quartet of seemingly innocent angels, he learns to find his true destiny.

Gene Luen Yang's latest graphic novel, illustrated by Thien Pham, tells a story of family loyalty and finding your true calling in beautiful full color illustrations. A touch of magical realism and snippets of med school mayhem bring some lightheart
Dec 17, 2014 Natasha rated it it was amazing
I really liked this graphic novel! The way video games were used in both metaphorical and literal senses were very clever. I also thought there was meaningful message, and it was even humorous at times.
Stacey B.
Jan 19, 2014 Stacey B. rated it really liked it
This one surprised me. I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I especially loved the ending.
Feb 03, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
N.T. Embe
Feb 12, 2016 N.T. Embe rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gamers, people who enjoy coming-of-age stories.
Recommended to N.T. by: Rain Misoa

I first read Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese for a Graphic Novels and Manga class back in 2010, and having fallen madly in love with his skillful story wielding, being intrigued by his unusual characters, and really enjoying his humor, I recommended the book straightaway to my partner, who loved it so much that they picked up this graphic novel as well. And even though I'm reading so much later than I read American Born Chinese, I'm so glad I'm reading this book now, because boy is it an
Aug 13, 2011 Kimberly rated it liked it
Dennis Ouyang, a wandering teenage boy finds his one passion in life- to play video games. And he's pretty damn good!
After his father's death, Dennis starts ONLY playing video games and finds himself kicked out of college in his junior year.
Suddenly, four small angels turn up to help him clean, study and focus on his destiny- to get into medical school and become a gastroenterologist. And then things get... weird. Of course we all think these angels are awesome and they are! Aren't they? They d
Poi Oip
Nov 07, 2016 Poi Oip rated it really liked it
Shelves: comic-books
I don't feel like talking too much about this book because me doing that would pretty much give all of it away. But damn it came at the perfect time in my life where I could relate to the main character in so many ways.

A few are:
1. Being the 20 yr old kid of immigrant parents
2. Trying to establish your own identity while balancing pleasing your family
3. The theme of family and sacrifice
4. Establishing an identity via your hobbies that help you escape from reality
5. Establishing an identity ba
Dec 26, 2014 Aurora rated it really liked it
*this review contains spoilers!*
"Level Up" is a fantasy graphic novel about a boy named Dennis Ouyang. Dennis is from a Chinese family and is trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. Dennis's father has told Dennis that it is his "destiny" to become a gastroenterologist. Dennis doesn't want to work in this profession. Throughout the whole story, Dennis questions why his father would force such a destiny upon him. Dennis also struggles with understanding what is the right path t
Stewart Tame
Nov 12, 2015 Stewart Tame rated it really liked it
Dennis Ouyang loves videogames, to the exclusion of just about everything else. On the brink of dropping out of college, he is visited by a quartet of angels who help him turn his life around and go on to med school. But something seems to be missing ... This is a deceptively simple story. Just when you think you know where it's going, it swerves. More than once. This reads well. I like the art, not by Yang himself (which is a shame, as he's really good), but by Thien Pham, of whom I have no pre ...more
Dore' Ripley
Sep 25, 2011 Dore' Ripley rated it really liked it
Level Up, the latest work by Printz Award winner Gene Luen Yang and artist Thien Pham, is sweet, nostalgic, mysterious, and has enough twists to keep you turning the pages. Dennis Ouyang is a video game enthusiast whose late night tournaments lead to his collegiate demise, but not to worry: Four greeting-card angels soon put him back on the path. In spite of the angels’ incessant coffee brewing, Dennis soon quits medical school and takes up gaming professionally, so why isn’t he happy? He discov ...more
Dec 01, 2015 Kat rated it really liked it
Basic Plot: Dennis has a destiny to become a gastroenterologist, but video games are getting in the way so 4 strange beings invade his life and shake things up.

This was a good, little story. It was short- readable in under an hour from start to finish. The metaphor of the angels is clear even from the beginning of the story. We all have invisible forces that drive us on to do the things we need to do. I just wish mine cooked my meals and brought me fresh coffee like Dennis's did. Seriously. The
Dec 04, 2011 Ben rated it it was ok
Gene Luen Yang isn't the first to write about the American immigrant experience (Chinese or otherwise), but he's one of the best doing this in the comic format, and he does so with a sweet, modern, and insightful style and a dry sense of humor. What I like best about his comics are their knack for putting all the forces and voices in the hero's life on the page, and then staunchly refusing to take sides or make easy good guys and bad guys out of them.

Level Up does all these things, and does them
Apr 02, 2012 Ronald rated it it was amazing
Being an only child in the family, of course your parents would expect a lot from you. One little mess up and of course the would yell at you. Whether it's elementary school, high school, college, and a great job, I would think it's normal for any other parents, no matter what race, to expect you finish this as your first obligations. This book is about a kid named Dennis Ouyang. His father passed away 2 weeks before his graduation. He has a tough decision on what he wants to be. He has two choi ...more
What's it about? Dennis' parents have always had high expectations for what they wanted him to do in his life, but he just wanted to be a regular kid, playing video games and having fun. After his father's death, he tries to decide what to do with his life, and is visited by four strange 'angels'.

Why did I read it?: I really enjoyed the author's 'American Born Chinese' AND I like video games. This seemed like a natural choice.

Favourite idea/part?: It was poignant. I liked the angels and their ro
Jul 21, 2011 Meghan rated it liked it
Despite the Game Boy cover art, video games are not the main focus of this comic. Instead, they're a clear influence in the artwork and the structure of the story, but the main theme is more about the struggle to figure out what path in life will make you happy and reconcile that with what your parents and family desire for you.

This explores the question of what it means to live up to someone's expectations - in this case, Dennis' father has always expected that Dennis will go to medical school
Jan 16, 2012 Hollowspine rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novel
An interesting tale of strict parenting, a natural gift for video games and the relationships that develop in between. It was humorous and evocative of the struggles many young people face when they start moving away from their parents and try to decide what they want to do with their life.

I enjoyed this quite a bit, especially the various revelations that happen as Dennis "levels up" as he chooses between his dreams and his parent's expectations. Sometimes you don't exactly know what you want u
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Book #36: Level Up by Gene Luen Yang 1 3 Apr 02, 2013 07:04PM  
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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.

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