Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Thien Pham
Dennis Ouyang has spent his entire childhood torn between his own passion for video gaming and his parents’ expectations for him to be a good Asian son and become a doctor. After his father’s death, all the pressure becomes too much, and Dennis turns to gaming, letting his studies slide . . . along with most of the rest of his life. Which is when his life takes a super-weird turn as found “angels” turn up to help/manipulate/bully him into pursuing his destiny as a gastroenterologist.
Level Up was a fascinating graphic novel–I read it all in one sitting! It basically is a coming-of-age sort of story dealing with the challenges of being a kid of Asian descent (with all the associated expectations) growing up in the U.S. I really appreciated that the author didn’t have Dennis just go through some magnificent change and grow up suddenly, but went through stages of maturity and understanding . . . just like we all go through. It was fun to see those stages of maturity compared to levels in a video game as well–very in keeping with the running underlying themes. And I LOVE that in the end, he found a satisfactory conclusion that combined his passions and his parents expectations; that’s something that a lot of people never find. As for the art, it’s simple but fun and expressive; Thien Pham does some fun stuff with colors and textured paper that add a lot of depth to the story visually. I would definitely recommend Level Up to most young-adult and up audiences as a great coming-of-age story.