Minli's Reviews > Level Up

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang
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May 12, 11

bookshelves: asian-interest, boy-interest, yay-diversity, young-adult, contemporary
Read in May, 2011

I picked this up as a potential gift for my brother, and was duly impressed. Having loved Yang's American Born Chinese, I went to this with high expectations. While considered YA, Level Up is a great fit for reluctant readers as old as college. The graphic novel format helps, obviously... but it's a lot more serious than it looks.

Dennis Ouyang has always felt the pressure to become a doctor. Asian kids, sympathize. His father has told him all his life to study hard, go to medical school, and become a gastroenterologist... except he'd really rather play video games all day. And after his father passes away, Dennis almost gets thrown out of undergrad playing games 24/7 ignoring his studies.

Luckily, four creepy angels show up, help him get back on track and get into med school. There, Dennis makes friends with second-gen Americans like himself, and finds himself neglecting his schoolwork yet again... this time both for friends as well as video games. Soon, Dennis must confront his own ambitions as well as his father's past.

There is a beautiful passage in this book, and it's when Dennis says he is made up of all the people before him--his parents, his grandparents, his whole ancestry. Just like no man is an island, Dennis is who Dennis is because of how he was raised, the circumstances he was born into, and the sacrifices his parents made. The pressure of following his father's wishes and becoming a doctor might inspire eye-rolls in some (after all, it's HIS life, why doesn't he get to choose?) but Yang depicts this very common struggle among immigrants with warmth and heart. The twist at the end made me giggle; I loved it.

Thien Pham's artwork is nice, but almost a bit too soft in palette for my liking. While it complements the story, it could have been more dynamic--I was expecting the same kind of aesthetic in 64-bit games, like the cover.
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