Level UP With Some Graphic Novel Goodness for Your Friday…


level up

Well, it’s Friday and I’m in love with Gene Luen Yang’s graphic “coming-of-age while being harassed by imaginary supernatural beings” memoir, Level Up.  We received our copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nothing is what it seems when life collides with video games.

Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents’ expectations: Stay focused in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, and become a gastroenterologist.

But between his father’s death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis can’t endure. He’s kicked out of college. And that’s when things get . . . weird.

Four adorable—but bossy—angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis’s life. He’s back on track to become a gastroenterologist. But is he living the life he wants?

Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized withAmerican Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.

There’s nothing better, during a run of large, hefty novels, to kick back with a graphic memoir and revel in the brevity of the text.  Having said that, Level Up is probably best enjoyed in two or more sittings, just to allow the pain and indecision of “new adult” angst to sink in.  Dennis Ouyang is an all-round good egg it would seem, who is torn between fulfilling his parents’ wishes and chasing his video-game-glory-shaped dream.  For a fair bit of the book it feels like poor Dennis can’t do anything right, because whether he is achieving excellence in the field of pixellated reality or intestinal correction, he is plagued by guilt, or the ghost of his father, or general early-adult insecurities about the permanence of one’s initial course choices at university.

I particularly enjoyed how Dennis changes his mind multiple times throughout the book as different information, and family secrets, come to light.  It’s quite satisfying and reassuring to know that the choice that Dennis eventually makes is the right one for him, despite the fact that it evinced so much agonizing and drama in its attainment.

I feel the need to mention that Level Up is another addition to the “diversity” canon, as apart from the first-generation Chinese immigrant perspective, there are also Indian and Latino characters making up Dennis’s core group of friends.  The differences between Dennis’s life and family responsibilities are highlighted when Dennis’s Caucasian friend can’t understand why Dennis would pursue such a massive undertaking as medical school simply because it’s what his parents expect.

While I haven’t yet mentioned the ghostly, imaginary angels on the cover of the book, this is not because they do not play a major part in the story.  These four certainly sit at the creepier end of the angelic spectrum, and demonstrate an unshakable belief that Dennis’s true destiny lies in the field of gastroenterology.  To aid him in attaining his destiny, the tiny cherubs cook, clean, wash and generally sort out Dennis’s living arrangements to allow him to concentrate on study.  While this may sound like a boon for Dennis, the benefits go hand in hand with the demonic freak-outs to which the angels are prone when Dennis dares to defy their wishes.  The angels are an interesting plot device and we discover, in hilarious and unexpected fashion, the real purpose behind their existence toward the end of the novel.

Level Up was both a great brain-break in between much heftier reading responsibilities, and an endearing and authentic snapshot of early adulthood, with all its opportunities and uncertainties.  I’d definitely recommend it for when you need a quick reminder that you aren’t the only one wandering around wondering what on earth you are going to do with the rest of your life.

Until next time,




Fi50 Reminder and an ARC Read-it-if: Game Over, Pete Watson


imageEvening all! Today I have a reminder for all those intrepid explorers of the written word – Fiction in 50, our monthly writing challenge gets underway for February starting Monday, the 24th of February.  We had some new faces joining us last month with some fantastic and creative entries, so if you’d like to participate, simply click on the button to find out how to get involved.
This month’s prompt is….

love in the time of button

(You fill in the blank!)

Now on to the meat of today’s post – a read-it-if review for middle grade funquest, Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber and illustrated by Andy Rash.  I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review – thanks!

The sinisterly titled Game Over, Pete Watson focuses, unsurprisingly enough, on young Pete Watson, as he attempts to legally purchase a copy of the latest video game on the market, Brawl-a-Thon 3000 XL.  In doing so, Pete inadvertently allows a top secret piece of government equipment to fall into hands that clearly don’t have security clearance.  So begins an adventure that sees Pete rekindle old friendships (and maybe even flames), set right his accidental wrong-doing and save the world, all while gaining valuable video game skills in the process.

game over pete watsonRead it if:

* you have ever inadvertently lost, given away or sold something that later turned out to be of major financial and sentimental value…say, your brother’s entire collection of still-in-the-box, mint condition, rarer-than-rare, original Star Wars figurines…

* you believe that, far from being a waste of time and the gateway to the destruction of society, video games have much to teach the young about pro-active problem solving – particular in situations in which bad guys pop up conveniently at the end of every season

* you were always a fan of the endings of the majority of Scooby Doo episodes

To avoid giving any more cryptic (or not so cryptic) spoilers, I might have to stop there.  Now having recently read a veritable stack of middle grade fiction in this sort of vein, I can’t honestly say that this is the best of them.  HOWEVER, there’s a lot here that kids of the right age bracket are going to love.

Firstly, the book has really short chapters, interesting font and plenty of illustrations (Pete attempts to include 50, but I didn’t count, so you’ll have to take his word or count for yourself), which make the book highly visually appealing.  Secondly, the content is perfectly age appropriate, particularly for boys – it has video games, mystery, an older, unattainable love interest (his best mate’s big sister), the troubles with having a nerdy best friend and how this will affect one’s position on the social ladder, and the opportunity to be a hero and save the day.  There’s also a giant mechanical cockroach that makes an appearance – if that doesn’t get the punters in, I don’t know what will!

This really is a book that I doubt will be read widely outside the age group at which it’s aimed.  As an adult reader, I found it a bit irritating at points, although admittedly, there were some one-liners (usually related to some pop-culture reference of yore) that had me laughing out loud.  And as I mentioned earlier, there is a very Scooby-Do-esque reveal during the ending which was an absolutely classic piece of writing in my opinion.  But although I didn’t get too much out of it as an adult, I think this will be a real hit with middle graders.

I can see this as the perfect read-aloud bonding experience for middle grade video game lovers and their dads (or video game loving mums!).  I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I think it would also be a good choice for reluctant readers due to the format and visual appeal of the book, and for the humorous and action-pacsmall fryked content.

Game Over, Pete Watson is due for release on March 11th.  It would also make a great choice for category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title.  If you don’t know what I’m on about, click the button and find out (then join up!).

Until next time (don’t forget to get those pens working over the weekend ready for Fi50!),


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