The End Games by T. Michael Martin
Published: 2013, HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Library book
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And who are you, Michael?
I'm the one who can save us. I'm a Gamer. And the Master.
So what are you going to do?
I'm going to remake the world.
And after that? I'm going to beat that world.
I'm not quite sure what drew me to pick up a copy of The End Games. Zombies, video games, a touch of the macabre, a relationship between brothers: all these central components of T. Michael Martin's debut are interesting and well handled, but none of those really has the potential to make this into a "me" book. Add to those components a frustrating narrative voice that was all over the place and therein lie the majority of the issues I had with this story.
Michael and Patrick have been on the run since Halloween night, when a strange virus took over the world and turned humans into zombies. By day they travel around, seeking food and shelter and other survivors. By night Michael and Patrick must either hide or be prepared to defend themselves against the Bellows (their word to describe the zombies' tendency to repeat words spoken by humans). Although it's now been nearly three weeks that they've been on the run, they still retain a fair amount of hope. After all, this new world seems to be one controlled by rules. There's a Game Master who gives Michael new instructions each night and points for how many enemies are killed, all in the hope of achieving a "Game Over" upon reaching the Safe Zone and regaining a sense of normalcy in life once more.
The best part of The End Games is the relationship between Michael and Patrick. Seventeen-year-old Michael is five-year-old Patrick's half-sibling, and the two rely completely on one another to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Even before the virus came, life wasn't easy for either of them, with a pushover mother, an abusive (step)father, and an indeterminate psychological diagnosis on Patrick. And now Michael still has to tread carefully as the two search for a Safe Zone so that Patrick does not end up having another one of his episodes. The love and support between the two of them is wonderful and realistic, and, judging from the author's notes, perhaps is at least slightly based on the relationship the author has with his own brother Patrick. I for one not questioned the authenticity of the depictions of Michael, Patrick, their history, or their relationship.
Not surprisingly, I ended up identifying a lot more with Michael. Not only is he the narrator, but he's much closer to my age (and the age of all readers of this book, I'd assume) and I also know what it's like to have a rather sizable age gap between you and your sibling. Michael is a realistically written teenage boy, struggling with some very ordinary issues in extraordinary circumstances. There's fear, self-doubt, grim determination, the stirrings of a first love, guilt all at war within Michael's head, but of course everything always comes back to Patrick. At times Michael is overly-protective and distant and makes mistakes, but they're all borne out of a desire to do good and help save his brother. Who wouldn't want to have a sibling willing to protect you at all costs?
Because Michael believes he must appear strong for Patrick, at least outwardly, a lot of his issues are developed and examined internally. He notes his thoughts and observations of the world internally more often than not. And it is through these internal narrations that the story began to lose me. Michael's narration is chaotic and messy as he struggles to make sense of everything. At many instances he creates arguments that he can debate solo. It was a bit unnerving to read. Not only that, but the flashbacks feel jarring, and the lack of focus in Michael's world becomes mirrored through his narration. Perhaps all of this is supposed to illustrate how overwhelmed Michael felt by everything. If so, then The End Games certainly did a good job of that. But it also was incredibly frustrating to read.
This is a clear case where a book simply doesn't mesh well with me. If not for the realism of Michael's character and my ability to identify with him somewhat, then I probably never would have been able to make it through this book. As it was, I still didn't really enjoy the book as a whole. Aspects such as the basic premise, bond between brothers, and some of the conflicts are well done. But as a whole, the book just felt not quite there. I think I've made it clear though that this is not my type of book, however, so please take my review with a grain of salt.
Rating: 2 stars