It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down with a good book, so when the opportunity arrived for me to check out the re-release of Gene Luen Yang’s 2011 Level Up book, I couldn’t pass up its video game/slice of life themes. Don’t let the simplistic and cutesy looking artwork by Thien Pham fool you into thinking this is some cartoon humor story, as it takes some serious turns that all of us who play the game of life can relate to.
The plot follows the life of a young man named Dennis Ouyang, a guy ever since he was six just wanted to play video games. Living with a strict mother and father who play out the Asian stereotype of working hard and never doing anything fun, Dennis sadly never gets to play anything until his later years. His parents want him to attend med school and get into gastroenterology, but all he cares about is getting the best scores on the games with plays his friends, something he continues to do into his college years which gets him kicked out. Without spoiling anything, after a tragic event that happened before college and rethinking his laziness over, four cute little angels magically appear and help Dennis get back into med school and focus on studying.
It isn’t long before Dennis makes some friends to study and hang with, and while hesitant at first in dealing with bowels and the things that go in (and out) of them, he begins to feel some sense of purpose. As fate would have it, a slight falling out with his friends leads him to rethink his life once again, this time leading him to go down a long, dark road where the angels reveal who and what they really are, a revelation that will change Dennis’ life forever.
It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down with a good page-turner, so I really enjoyed reading this book. I literally picked it up and couldn’t put it down until I was finished reading the 160 pages of slice-of-life goodness. Gene Yang tells a fun and often times touching tale filled with a love and passion for videogames that any fan knows all too well about, while also being torn between what Dennis wants and what his parents want, making this a story a lot of people can relate to. The artwork by Thien Pham fits perfectly and is deceptively cute and cartoon-like, which makes the story stand out even more when the hard choices and sad parts come up as you read.
I highly recommend Level Up for those who love video games and fun slice of life stories. Gene Yang and Thien Pham combine their talents to make a funny and fresh book that’s filled with games, friendship, loss, and finding your place in the world from an Asian perspective that anyone can relate to and will enjoy reading.