Tuesday, July 12, 2011

YA Graphic Review: Level Up by Gene Yang

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Almost every gamer has had this boss battle.
Almost every young adult has had this hurdle.
The one where what you LOVE to do, is questioned by parents who want you to do things that will get you a job.

Dennis Ouyang was bitten by the video game bug when he was six years old but try as he might, his parents refused to even let him have money for the arcade, let alone purchase a home system.  Playing games is no way to learn how to "eat much bitterness", his father decides, and instead steers young Dennis into a life of science and schoolwork.

Fifteen years later, Dennis' life is sent reeling when his father unexpectedly dies from cancer.  In the midst of his depression and confusion, Dennis picks up his first video game controller and a strong habit is formed. Between seeing visions of his father everywhere he goes, to the gaming, Dennis is so distracted that he soon begins to lose everything from girlfriends, to jobs, and finally his education when he's expelled from college.

And here's where things get crazy.

Four small winged angels which were once graphics on a card he'd received from his father begin to haunt Dennis and tell him he must not only re-enroll in college, but that he must also apply to medical school.  They tell him that his destiny is to become a gastroenterologist, and that gaming has no place in that destiny.  Feeling guilty for being expelled and also for possibly letting his father down, Dennis agrees to pursue the destiny that his father expected of him.

As with American Born Chinese, author Gene Luen Yang has done a great job in bringing humor and subtle honesty to this coming-of-age tale. No matter what our passion, all of us can relate to the feeling of sadness when what we love to do, just isn't enough for those we love.

Another thing I appreciated about this story was that there was fair light given to both the medical field as well as the gaming world.  While Dennis could be successful in either profession, the higher focus of this story was that it was HIS choice to do so, and not his father's.

As graphic novels go, this one was an understatement in terms of the actual pictures.  There were some awesome tie-ins and allusions to Pac-Man and Nintendo, but the story truly surpassed the graphics.  Soft, pen-drawn scenes were colored in light pastels and provided a gentle setting for the at times heart-breakingly sweet story.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loved American Born Chinese, but also to anyone who loves simple and quirky pieces of realistic YA.  Many will also find that it is a great story to have on hand for that young person, (or adult), who like Dennis, longs to find a path that includes their game controller.

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