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 IsBetween His Father S Death, His Academic Burnout, And His Deep And Distracting Love Of Video Games, Dennis Is Nowhere Near Where His Family Wanted Him To Be In Fact, He S Just Been Kicked Out Of CollegeAnd That S When Things Get WeirdFour Adorable And Bossy Angels, Straight Out Of A Sappy Greeting Card, Appear And Take Charge Of Dennis S Life And So Dennis Finds Himself Herded Back Onto The Straight And Narrow The Path To Gastroenterology But Nothing Is Ever What It Seems When Life, Magic And Video Games Collide 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 kicked out of college Pushed to succeed since he was a small child, Dennis has instead devoted himself to the video games he was entranced by as a child, and found solace in after the early death of his father However, his lack of motivation and direction attract the attention of four cute, domineering cherubs, who insist they have arrived to help Dennis achieve his destiny Dennis goes from slacker and college dropout to medical school student, back on the path to achieving the goals his father had set for him But is that path really the right one for Dennis Whose well being are the angels really looking after I don t want to give too much of the story away, but Yang works with a very familiar theme and still manages to produce an original, heartwarming tale Despite the cover design, video games are only an ingredient, adding spice to a savory mix of dry humor, magical realism, and introspection Video games are a consistent theme, though, and effectively shape both the format of the book and the plot itself Most impressively, though, Yang writes deftly about growing up as an Asian American teen, something he has done quite well before, and yet does so with a universal approach that makes the issue understandable and sympathetic to just about anyone, regardless of ethnicity.Pham s art is rough and cutesy, but honestly, it s perfect The panels are always drawn and laid out in exactly the right way to convey the humor or sadness in that particular part of story The caricatures are simple enough to forgive any inconsistency, but vibrant enough to carry a genuine emotional impact It took me a few pages to get on board with the art style, but I loved it once I did.I can t really think of anything bad to say about this book, other than that it s short and the story resolves itself fairly quickly It s a good read for graphic novel enthusiasts and reluctant readers who are inclined towards video games, but honestly, it s a good read for just about anyone. Let me say that I pretty much think that video games are a time sucking evil in this world, but I have played some of them in my life So this was an interesting read.I thought this was such a great story This kid grows up and his parents won t let him play video games and that s all he wants to do His father demands he becomes a doctor The dad dies and the kid begins to play games and has a natural ability and does really well Then 4 angels show up and force him into college and force him to study He gets into med school.I love the ending I love love love it I want to talk about it, but I will not spoil it There is a simple wonderful twist at the ending I will say that all the time he spent playing video games comes in handy It s so beautiful reallyFirst Second came through again They are amazing. 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 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, stamping my day to day routines with their sizzling brand I had owned game systems before the NES, but it was that particular machine that unveiled a whole new tone to the possibility of digital entertainment.And like most of Dennis friends and therefore unlike Dennis himself , I was allowed to own a game system Of course, probably unlike Dennis friends, I had to earn the money with which to purchase said system and later, systems Still, this is where the similarities between my experience and Dennis diverge While Dennis father prevents Dennis from enjoying frivolities in his youth teaching him of the necessity of eating much bitterness , my own parents promoted balance in my youthful endeavors, allowing bitterness to mix with enjoyable pursuits in both athletics and the humanities The point being, I had a lot of fun growing up while Dennis studied.Honestly, I was a little sad that Level Up moved in this direction after such a strongly resonant scene There s nothing wrong with the direction the book takes save for that now it was no longer telling the story of my life Instead of telling a story charting a path I would have been familiar with, Gene Yang and Thien Pham navigate a life of extreme conflict Dennis is either wanton in his digital gaming orgies or brutally weighed down by a desperate need to work toward becoming a gastroenterologist It s a hard road, requiring endless hours of work, so it makes sense that the falls off the wagon are steep and from height It doesn t help that Dennis feels driven by the Fates.Destiny plays its heavy hand in Dennis circumstances and hangs around like a turkey vulture, ready to pick at the carcass it intends to make of his life Or at least the spectre of it does Destiny gets referred to a lot By Dennis and by the four cherubic angels that begin to haunt him, cracking the whip until he gets his work done for destiny Dennis is the child of immigrants and his father, having eaten much bitterness himself in order to give Dennis a good life in his new country, died when he was a senior in highschool If there s an antagonist in this story, it s probably not destiny or the angelic quartet or even Dennis dad Instead, it s the memory of his father and what his father probably wanted for him.Really, Dennis is just weighed down by a conscience that will cut him no slack and will demand everything from him.Along the way, we re introduced to three actually human characters who each try to pull Dennis toward one extreme or another Takeem would have Dennis join him in the professional gaming circuit Ipsha emphasizes the essentiality of doing as one s parents request and or expect And Kat strikes the note of individualism, demanding that Dennis learn to be his own man and grow into the kind of person who does well by doing what he most wants.It s a good story, but I wish we would have been given time with any of the supporting characters who didn t have feathers There were about a million interesting conversations that could have taken place but didn t Or maybe they did but simply occurred off camera Level Up is a rather sparse work that almost races toward its conclusion More interaction with Dennis friends may have only served as padding, holding off the climax for just that much longer, but I felt the book would have been stronger for it Because of the story s rather pragmatic manner of unfolding itself, most of the characters sit shy of three dimensional Even Dennis Which is a little bit too badReally, I probably just wanted of this It s a worthwhile story and pretty well told The art is well conceived and the watercolouring a beautifully simple touch It just that at the end of the day, because the characters weren t as well developed as they could have been, it was hard to care for their struggles and needs Level Up approaches greatness but runs out of quarters before it can get there Review courtesy of Good Ok Bad After having read American Born Chinese earlier this year, I was excited to pick up 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 quite as much with me Part of it was expectations with a title like Level Up, and a cover that looks like a GameBoy, I was expecting to do with gaming culture perhaps the protagonist has to enter into a game or live his life as a game, or something but instead, it was about sacrifices and honoring family.In his heart, Dennis wants to be a gamer He s been transfixed with them since he was a young boy, but his father would never allow it, saying sacrifice makes us who we are and there s no time for games if you want to succeed Dennis swallows his hurt, as his Dad taught him, and focuses intently on his studies When his father passes away, however, Dennis finally gets to game Things happen, and Dennis is a man of extremes The ending lesson of happiness and finding what that means for you feels a little too on the nose and fortune cookie ish, but it s a pretty solid examination of today s youth culture, or at least what older people seem to think it is. My smarty pants nine year old adores this book it d come up on a recommended for you page on 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 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. Level Up predated the craze for graphic novel autobiographies by a couple of years 2011 publication date While the story is fictional, and there are a few fantastical aspects, Level Up is close enough to a real live coming of age story that it feels like an autobiography. 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 potential here, Dennis relationship with his parents being the best example There are a number of touching scenes in this regard, but they re inconsistent and sporadic This is even true of his relationships with his friends They just kind of come and go, and they never satisfactorily resolve Granted, that is often the way things happen in real life, but I generally crave a bit structure and meaning from stories The last few story arcs feel especially slapdash It s not that I don t like where it ends up, but the journey could have been a lot satisfying Finally, the art, while cute, didn t really hold my interest I have heard many good things about Yang s American Born Chinese and I still intend to read it, but I found myself pretty unimpressed by Level Up. 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 topics, and the things it does talk about don t add up to much as far as I can tell Luen Yang s storytelling is surprisingly clunky and directionless here, and it does not receive much support from Thien Pham s barely functional artwork Disappointing. 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 relationships some , plus of a follow up to the ending As a work of coming of age and figuring out one aspect of one s life, however, this is quite a small gem.