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Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Level Up's title is a video game reference, but it is also a metaphor for accepting responsibility and gaining maturity as one ages, which are qualities that Dennis Ouyang needs serious help with.

From the first time Dennis ever saw a Pac Man console as a child, he was mesmerized by the power that video games had. The idea of endless entertainment, based on skill and incredibly interactive, transfixes him.

Dennis' no-nonsense father discourages the games, insisting that he focus on academics and become a doctor. These wishes are so powerful that they even affect Dennis' life after his father passes away. 

When Dennis' passion for play gets in the way of his studies, he finds assistance in the form of some cherubic "kewpie doll angels" who are committed to keep him on track at any cost. It works at first, but these magical helpers are not what they seem.

The book is kindred in spirit to Gene Luen Yang's breakthrough graphic novel American Born Chinese, which honestly has a stronger protagonist and narrative. Both titles deal with Asian-American youth finding identity and friendship while overcoming obstacles related to their parents and stereotypes.

In Level Up, Dennis' main obstacle is the memory of his father—and the feelings of not living up to his expectations.

Dennis' other obstacle is himself. Rather than find a balace between school and free time, Dennis finds he is unable to break away from the games that he loves so much, choosing to engage in digital adventuring rather than homework.

Friendships and romance are also touched upon but are secondary to the book's main storyline. All in all, Level Up manages to find valid points about the benefits and risks of playing video games. I'm sure that most teens have heard one side of that argument before. I know I did.

In that debate, Dennis' discovery that his gaming precision might actually help him in the medical field is a true victory. This book is a must-read for gamers, graphic novel enthusiasts, and any college-bound youth who might need a refresher in balancing work and play. Level up today!