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Level up
2011
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Dennis, the son of Chinese immigrants, yearns to play video games like his friends and, upon his strict father's death, becomes obsessed with them but later, realizing how his father sacrificed for him, he chooses a nobler path. - (Baker & Taylor)

Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents' high expectations: they want him to go to medical school; 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 path to gastroenterology. - (Baker & Taylor)

Gene Luen Yang is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and is a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of what's popularly known as the MacArthur "Genius" Grant.

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

Smackdown!

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.

- (McMillan Palgrave)

Author Biography

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 Crackers. American 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.

- (McMillan Palgrave)

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Booklist Reviews

In his new story, Yang explores the daunting pressure of parental expectation while still applying generous doses of video-game references and goofy humor. The fact that Dennis Ouyang is about as good a gamer as they come doesn't jive so well with his parents, who expect him to go to medical school and become a gastroenterologist. After he flunks out of college, Dennis is visited by a quartet of pushy angels, who harangue him into getting his act together, and he squashes down thoughts of following his heart in exchange for making his dead father proud. Yang hands the cartooning duties to Pham, whose loose watercolors and unfussy, energetic figures keep the tone light, contrasting, at turns, the deeply sober yet playful story. This isn't new territory for Yang or comics in general (both his American Born Chinese, 2006, and Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novels are spiritual kin), but Yang handles coming-of-age with the best of them and delivers a terrific twist in the finale, revealing how honoring both your family and yourself can find a happy balance. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Yang (American Born Chinese) returns to familiar territory in this graphic novel about an Asian American college student torn between following his own path (video game expert) and his dead father's wishes (gastroenterologist). Pham's unfussy art (markedly different from Yang's own illustration style) provides a freshness that complements both the story's serious and humorous moments. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother describes high-pressure parenting to produce high achievers; Yang explores the other side of the equation.

Dennis Ouyang's destiny, as decreed by his late, Chinese-immigrant father, is to become a gastroenterologist. Except he's flunked out of college, done in by his passion for videogames. In the nick of time to rescue his dad's dream, four little angels arrive. (Dennis recognizes them from the card his dad gave him when he was eighth-grade valedictorian.) They cook and clean for Dennis, get him reinstated and make sure he studies. Cute but relentless, they won't let him pause to celebrate his admission to medical school but march him on to the next step in Project Gastroenterologist. When Dennis develops a social life, the angels reveal their scary side, pushing him to decisions of his own—but, frustratingly, the story punts on why Dennis chooses as he does. Pham's slyly muted art, infused with console-game design, gives Dennis an appropriately (given his issues) childlike look. Those creepy angels will stay with readers. As narrative, Yang's immigrant-parent theme—like the "be yourself" message of his Printz Award–winning American Born Chinese—is conventional; braided with parallel strands of startlingly original imagery, though, it becomes more.

A piquant, multilayered coming-of-age fable for the wired generation. (Graphic novel. 10 & up)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Yang, writer-artist of National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, writes this magical-realist tale of Asian-American parental pressure and video-game escape, leaving the art to up-and-comer Pham. Dennis Ouyang struggles with the burden of his dead father's orders that he study hard, go to med school, and become a gastroenterologist. When Dennis, inspired by four mysterious angels, gives up his passion—video games—and buckles down to his studies, he befriends three fellow second-generation students and begins to make a place in med school. But a crisis in confidence reveals the true nature of his guardian angels, and the real source of his father's dreams for his only son. Pham's watercolors can be charming, but his primarily gray and brown palette gets visually monotonous; thankfully, his work increases in energy as the plot does. Yang's familiar story of immigrant striving and filial rebellion gets just enough juice from its connection to arcade culture. A bravura storytelling and visual twist near the end brings together the plot's several strands. A minor work from Yang, but a welcome introduction to Pham, whose own upcoming First Second graphic novel, Sumo, looks promising. (June)

[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 9 Up—Yang returns to the Asian American coming-of-age motif that he addressed so brilliantly in American Born Chinese (Roaring Brook, 2006). Dennis Ouyang is a video-game addict and a disappointment to his father, who insists that his son grow up to be a gastroenterologist. Dennis struggles to negotiate the tricky balance between his father's wishes and his own somewhat-ambivalent desires. The arrival of four childlike angels whose sole purpose is to motivate the teen in his studies complicates his struggle and serves to move the story away from pure realism. The narrative resolves quite handily, with Dennis discovering a method to combine his video-game skills with a career in medicine. While the story does not achieve the level of American Born Chinese, it is not without charm and bright moments; when the true nature of the angels is revealed, it cleverly dovetails with other story elements. Pham's artwork conveys the story in a satisfactory way but is somewhat repetitive in appearance. Overall, an interesting work, but an additional purchase.—Douglas P. Davey, Halton Hills Public Library, Ontario, Canada

[Page 191]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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