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Level Up [Paperback]

Gene Luen Yang , Thien Pham
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 7 2011
A New York Times Notable Children's Book (Young Adult) for 2011

Video Games vs. Medical School!

Which will win the battle for our hero’s attention in Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel?

Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations. They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally.

But four adorable, bossy, and occasionally terrifying angels arrive just in time to lead Dennis back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. It’s all part of the plan, they tell him. But is it? This powerful piece of magical realism brings into sharp relief the conflict many teens face between pursuing their dreams and living their parents’.

Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of newcomer 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.

Frequently Bought Together

Level Up + American Born Chinese + Boxers & Saints Boxed Set
Price For All Three: CDN$ 48.35

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Product Description

About the Author

Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he received a Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan’s Kingdom, The Rosary Comic Book, Prime Baby and Animal CrackersAmerican Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. He also won an Eisner for The Eternal Smile, a collaboration with Derek Kirk Kim. Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he teaches high school. He got his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, where he wrote his thesis on using comics in education. 
THIEN PHAM is a comic book and visual artist, based in the Bay Area. He is also a high school teacher. Pham illustrated Gene Luen Yang's Level Up, a YALSA Great Graphic Novel and New York Times Notable Children's Book. Sumo is his first solo work.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice short graphic novel Jan. 29 2012
By AliKira
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really found this graphic novel hit the spot after a long day, and a lot of emotional turmoil concerning my own future. I highly recoomend this work for entertainment value that has a much deeper punch with reference to deeper meaning.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Game On May 5 2013
In Level Up, Dennis' Dad wants him to become a gastroenterologist. But all Dennis wants to do is play videogames. I love how the author begins by putting us in the middle. No one would want to be told what profession to follow, and yet, anything seems better than being an addict. Just when it looks like Dennis won't change his mind, his dad dies and his whole world crumbles.

Cleverly designed with levels one, two, and three -- the story enfold in a comfortable pace. Dennis even gets a ''conscious'' disguised as little guardian angels along the way.

All in all, Luen Yang teaches us about the peace we get when we sacrifice ourselves for another, and the way it slowly rots us inside.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughing, laughing, laughing, oh shoot . . . I'm crying. June 12 2011
By H. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Gene Yang once again delivers a fun story that sneaks up on you and breaks your heart. I don't know how he keeps doing it, but he does.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for Advanced 9 year-olds, filled w/ "teachable moments" Aug. 8 2013
By Dux - Published on Amazon.com
My smarty-pants nine year-old adores this book -- it'd come up on a "recommended for you" page here 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 "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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly compelling Bildungsroman with video games June 30 2011
By Neurasthenic - Published on Amazon.com
I expected a trite story about a boy growing up with video games, and Level Up starts as such, but quickly demonstrates itself to be more sophisticated than I had expected. The plot relates a young man's struggles in school and, to a lesser degree with girls, as he is powerfully distracted (seduced?) by games. Thematically, the book involves our obligations to our parents, and our children, and whether one can be happy following a path dictated by guilt.

The book has a major element of magical realism that involves the author's sense of obligation to his dead father manifested as greeting card angels who help him through school. The reader feels conflicted seeing them, knowing they are pushing him in a good direction, but that he may never be happy unless he pursues these ends for better reasons. This is ultimately resolved in a way that is natural, and yet surprising and quite moving.

Video games recur in the story, but ultimately this book is far greater than any book just about gaming could be.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling coming-of-age story July 7 2011
By DJ Joe Sixpack - Published on Amazon.com
"Level Up"
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)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful story and excellent art that will resonate with fathers and sons everywhere June 8 2011
By gravelous19 - Published on Amazon.com
You don't need to be a gamer to appreciate and enjoy Level Up. The story is universal--primal--and speaks to the truth of what it means to be both a father and a son. It's a story of personal discovery and filial piety, handled well with humor and nostalgia.

Reluctant overachiever Dennis Ouyang has been groomed, since birth, to become a doctor--not just any doctor, a highly specialized gastroenterologist. Dennis, however, would rather play video games. Dennis becomes obsessed with video games, but he lives in the shadow of his parent's--and his father's--expectations. The weight of these expectations and early family tragedy take their toll on Dennis as he abandons his father's wishes to become a doctor by experimenting heavily with gaming, eventually allowing the games to consume his life, which has devolved into a sedentary, 8-bit bacchanalia. Dennis becomes consumed by playing video games and his academic future is now in jeopardy. However, a visit by four bright, determined, chiibi-esque angels steers Dennis back on the path toward medical school and family honor, proclaiming to him that becoming a doctor is his destiny. These seemingly righteous angels help Dennis to discover for himself what his destiny is. Using video games as a gimmick, Level Up is ultimately the story of a son trying to forge his own life while honoring the love and expectations of his parents.

Like Yang's other works, the protagonist is an unassuming, likable fellow whose internal conflicts manifest as surreal, whimsical totems of childhood. And, like his other works, popular culture references and stylized, contemporary dialogue help to reinterpret stories and struggles that have been going on for generations. What makes Level Up such a particularly powerful tale is that the age-old conflict between fathers and sons is given a fresh context when the story of the immigrant father is revealed.

Similar to the characters in Level Up, the art by Thien Pham is deceptively simple and unassuming. This style works particularly well with the angels, who are cute and easy to underestimate. Thien Pham, in the simplest of panels, is able to convey powerful, pure expressions of bitterness, guilt, contentment, and longing in his characters' faces.

Overall, while marketed as a book for young adults, Level Up makes a great read for adults, especially those of us in the X and Y generations. It will also make a great Father's Day gift for hip, geek dads.
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