Kirkus Reviews QR Code
LEVEL UP by Gene Luen Yang

LEVEL UP

By Gene Luen Yang (Author) , Thien Pham (Illustrator)

Age Range: 10 & up

Pub Date: June 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59643-235-2
Publisher: First Second/Roaring Brook

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)