Dennis is a first generation immigrant child of Chinese parents who has long chafed under his father’s heavy expectations. When the latter dies just before his son’s graduation from high school, Dennis responds by immersing himself in video games until his university suspends him for poor performance. The story begins in earnest when four “angels” arrive to help Dennis straighten out his life — getting him back into school and pushing him to study hard and eventually enter med school (specialising in gastroenterology) while they cook, clean, and remind him constantly that his “destiny” is to be a gastroenterologist. Though he follows the path the angels lay out for him, Dennis feels less and less himself. The revelation of the true nature of his angelic companions gives Dennis an opportunity to discover a meeting point between his father’s hopes for him and his own personality.
Like Shine, Coconut Moon, Yang’s graphic novel speaks to the conflict between cultures encountered by second-generation immigrants. However, in turning the focus onto the development of Dennis’s response to his father’s expectations for him, Level Up becomes relevant to more general tension between generations. Though the emphasis on video games throughout (Pham’s drawings even illustrate Dennis’s increasing distance from himself as lost “lives” in the top corner of the panels) and the cuteness of the angels might at first give the impression of superficiality, the questions raised about a child’s responsibility to his or her parents’ aspirations and parents’ responsibilities to their children’s dreams are profound.
Read the Kirkus review.
Listen to a radio interview with Yang.
Find out about the “secret origins” of Level Up according to Yang and Pham.