Gene Luen Yang’s Level Up is a good depiction of the effect that video games can have on our lives, but not in the typical “it’ll rot your brain” way, but in a way that highlights the good that it might do when properly balanced. The moment I saw Thiem Pham’s cover, designed to look just like the Game Boy I grew up on, I knew I needed to read this.
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’.
All that Dennis really wants to do is play video games. From the moment he first picks up a controller, he knows that’s exactly what he wants to do with his life. However, his parents have a very specific vision for him: medical school. Nothing less will do. He’s smart, but not driven. He hasn’t found a passion that extends beyond the game console.
Level Up is also a great example of the communications barrier between parents and children, and how they may actually know us better than we know ourselves. There’s a paper that I have my students write, which involves thinking through what their passions are, what really burdens them. They all tell me, “I don’t have any passions!” I tell them to talk to their parents, who can generally point directly to what their kids’ passions are.
While you don’t need to love video games to enjoy this book, it probably helps. There’s a small amount of cussing, but it’s also about a college student, though I would still give it to teens as a depiction of what might happen.
It reminds me of Scott Pilgrim, a graphic novel series I absolutely love, and on which I am writing my Master’s Thesis. I might bring this in, as it’s very similar in its use of magical realism as a way to depict how many lifelong gamers might relate to the world around them.
This was a delightful graphic novel, both melancholic and whimsical at the same time. I really enjoyed it!