Title: Level Up
Author: Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham (Illustrator)
Publisher: First Second
Check this book out on Goodreads.
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 family wanted him to be. In fact, he’s just been kicked out of college.
And that’s when things get … weird.
Four 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. (Source: Goodreads)
Dennis is haunted by his father’s death. He lets ghosts from his past try to force his hand in achieving his destiny, and almost gets completely screwed for it. Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham create a fun story through Dennis’s journey about finding what makes you happy and working to get it.
I really enjoyed this. I am a big fan of basically everything from First Second, because they publish some great stuff. This is no exception. I have read, or plan to read, most of Gene Luen Yang’s work. I am not exactly his biggest fan, however, I do enjoy the content that he makes and it certainly does generate a lot of discussion from me, especially his Boxers and Saints series. This book is no exception in that it’s an interesting concept and a fun story with a really great message. Thien Pham is the illustrator of this book, I’ve previously read Pham’s Sumo which I enjoyed, so I was excited to see Yang and Pham paired up together. I was not disappointed.
The story, about a boy who wants to live up to expectations his parents have but has to do so by sacrificing his own happiness, is pretty standard, kind of the classic college story that’s in a lot of YA content. I think that Yang handled the concept well, with a bit of a twist at the end (no spoilers, I promise). I found the mixture of realistic story with sci-fi/fantasy from the video game world worked really well. I will say that this book had a bit of a Brian Lee O’Malley feel to it because of this (think Scott Pilgrim or Seconds), which was fantastic. But, this book definitely carries Yang’s signature voice throughout, it definitely reminded me of his other work at times (especially Boxers and Saints and Prime Baby).
The art for me was just okay. I like Pham’s style just fine, but I just felt something was lacking. The style is very much the same as Sumo, which is fine, but I think for this story it didn’t quite gel the right way for me. I thought it was lacking some of the depth necessary for this story. The emotions didn’t carry across in quite the right way, though they were still present. I liked it, but it wasn’t completely on point.
I found Dennis a likeable guy for the most part. I can completely understand his desire to work in video games and pursue the things he enjoys doing for a living. The little angels that hang out with his were a good mix of cute and creepy which kept me interested throughout. I think the one thing that I didn’t really enjoy in this book, which is similar to American Born Chinese is the kind of “all or nothing” attitude that comes across. For Dennis it’s basically play video games constantly or not at all, which just feels like a constant in Yang’s work…there’s no sense of moderation being possible and I find that really disappointing.
Overall, an enjoyable and cute read. The art wasn’t perfect for me, but was still good. I definitely recommend this to fans of graphic novels, and young adult readers.
Have you read Level Up? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Check out Gene Luen Yang on his website and Twitter.
Check out Thien Pham on his website and Twitter.
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