Level Up (comics)

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Level Up
DateJune 2011
Page count160 pages
PublisherFirst Second Books
Creative team
WritersGene Yang
ArtistsThien Pham
Original publication

Level Up is a graphic novel written by Gene Yang and illustrated by Thien Pham. The book was published in June 2011 by First Second Books.[1]


Dennis Ouyang is a young man who loves to play video games, but is struggling to get into medical school. Having been pressured by his parents since childhood, Dennis struggles to keep his goal of becoming a gastroenterologist, like his late father always wanted him to be. But when it seems like his goal is as good as dead, four angels suddenly appear and persuade him to keep on studying. The four angels help Dennis with his daily chores, including the dishes and laundry, so that he can focus on his studies.

Eventually Dennis makes it to medical school, where he makes friends with Ipsha Narang, a Hindu student who comes from a long line of surgeons, Hector Martinez, a former jock who decided to study medicine after a car crash, and Catherine Rae, who was shot when she was a child but was saved by a mysterious man on motorcycle. Dennis becomes infatuated with Catherine.

He and his friends start a study group, but because of this, Dennis begins to neglect the four angels who helped him get to medical school. After his teacher gives the class an assignment which involves collecting poop, Dennis becomes disgusted and begins to doubt himself again. Matters get worse when he and Catherine have a talk in which Dennis tells her it is his destiny to be a doctor like his father wanted him to be. Catherine verbally assaults him and tells him to think for himself and not to let his father's wishes define him.

One night while at their study group, Catherine still berates Dennis for letting his family define him. Ipsha, who has an obvious crush on Dennis, gets angry and leaves the group. Dennis goes after her but Ipsha tells him to leave her alone and that family does define who you are. All the commotion causes Hector to leave the study group and eventually Catherine and Dennis stop seeing each other.

Once again Dennis goes back to relying on the angels for study help. However keeping Catherine's words in mind and after seemingly failing a gallbladder exam, Dennis decides to take charge of his life for once. He goes home and tells the angels that he's decided to leave medical school. However the angels get angry and lock him in his bedroom. Dennis however manages to escape but the angels follow him. Dennis notices that the angels are actually Pac-Man ghosts and he is the yellow man. Dennis begins to devour the ghosts and realizes what they really are, his father's broken promises. He had promised to his mother, father and uncle he would become a doctor, and finally he promised him when he was a baby that he would make him a better man. During the final vision, Dennis briefly speaks with his father who tells him that he gave up on being a doctor after failing to get into medical school several times. He also tells Dennis that he's free to choose his own path by telling him, "a better man is a happier man".

Dennis wakes up in the school's infirmary after passing out, having been taken there by Catherine and Hector who found him acting like a madman on the street. As soon as he wakes up Dennis announces he's dropping out. The next day he leaves medical school and goes back to playing video games, testing them online and competing in competitions, winning money prizes in the return. However he still wasn't happy. After meeting a store clerk whom Dennis tested on his gallbladder exam, the man tells him that he had actually saved his life having felt a tumor, which he treated.

Having realized that what he really wants is to help people, he goes back to medical school, where he is greeted by Ipsha who gives him her number. Dennis checks-in with one of his old teachers. The book ends with Dennis helping the doctor with an interactive video of an intestine.


The book made the "2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults" by the Young Adult Library Services Association.[2] The New York Times also named the book to its "Notable Children's Books of 2011" list.[3]


  1. ^ Paul, Pamela (July 13, 2011). "The Tiger Mom's Other Child". The New York Times. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  2. ^ "2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). January 25, 2012.
  3. ^ "Notable Children's Books of 2011". November 21, 2011 – via NYTimes.com.

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