Graphic Novel Review: "Level Up" by Gene Luen Yang

Dennis becomes interested in video games at a young age, but is forbidden to play by his father who doesn’t think they are a good use of time.  Dennis’ father wants him to become a gastroenterologist, and anything else will be acceptable.  When Dennis’s father passes away just before Dennis is to graduate high school, he grieves by buying his first Nintendo system.  He enters college depressed and addicted to video games, and nearly drops out.  He is “saved” by mysterious angels that Dennis believes were sent by his father.  He pulls himself together, quits video games, and gets into medical school…  when he finally asks himself what he really wants to do with his life.  Doesn’t he get a say?

This is a slightly different take on a coming of age story.  Dennis is figuring out how to navigate his life and overcome academic pressure and pressure from his parents which is a result of their immigrant experience.  The father is living vicariously through the son, and pushing him to realize the dreams & promises that have gone unrealized.  I think that this is something to which many can relate.

The only thing that troubled me a little with this story was the all or nothing ultimatum.  Why can’t Dennis learn to play video games in moderation?  Medical school is very stressful and demanding (at least that’s what I’ve been told), so wouldn’t it make sense that he might want to relax and take study breaks doing something that he truly enjoys?

Anyway…. the artwork is fairly simplistic but very effective.  The use of color, especially in the background, works well to project emotions through different scenes.  This is my first graphic novel by Yang, though several others are on my list!

Level Up
by Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 2011
160 pages
Source:  Library

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