Thursday, February 13, 2014
The End Games by T. Michael Martin
If you like: video games * zombies * brothers
In The End Games, Michael has convinced his five-year-old brother, Patrick, that the ongoing Bellow (these zombies holla back!) invasion is a real life video game. As long as they follow the rules of the Game Master they will get through anything. Slowly the Game begins to change and the Bellows start to evolve. Other survivors as scarce and Michael begins to worry that he will not be able to make the Game last long enough to get them to the safe zone. Just as they get closer to the safe zone, they encounter a group of religious fanatics believing the Bellows are the result of some sort of rapture, and should be worshiped rather than destroyed. Along with other survivors they encounter, Michael and Patrick battle both these fanatics and the Bellows in order to try to win survival of this apocalypse.
The End Games provides a unique spin on the zombie apocalypse. Two young brothers surviving for weeks on their own without losing their spirit or turning on each other is rare. Michael is smart and cleverly stays one step ahead of everyone throughout the story. Not only does he continually find supplies and evade the zombies, he also manages to keep Patrick from being overwhelmed by the devastation that surrounds them. The origin and evolution of the Bellows is an interesting trajectory that really drives the story quickly. They are clearly dangerous and murderous creatures, but they also repeat back whatever you say, providing several moments of levity in the story. It also leads to deviation from common zombie fighting strategy; there is no need to carefully check every nook and cranny — just shout into any building and if there are Bellows around you’ll know. As they evolve into increasingly more dangerous creatures, the stakes are raised far more than one would expect from a YA novel. Though the violence is not graphic, the lack of any safety is palpable and the reader will truly fear for the survival of the protagonists.
The link between Michael, Patrick, and their survival extends far beyond the invasion of the Bellows. The two boys come from a broken home. They share a mother who loves them and does her best, but she is a battered woman trying to survive through the obstacles life brings her way. Michael’s step-father is the monster the boys are far more experienced in dealing with. Michael has tried to protect Patrick from Ron’s violence. This protection is what helped him to create the Game in the first place. The experience of planning to deal with Ron has prepared Michael for all of the dangerous situations that they face throughout the book. He knows how to deal with prickly egos and how to fight through his emotions and pain in order to protect his brother. This is their true story of survival. Though they outlast most people, it isn’t until they face their more human foes that they are able to come through to the end of the apocalypse. The Bellows are nowhere near as dangerous to Patrick as him losing control of himself and mentally collapsing under the weight of what he is living with. He trusts in the Game because he needs to trust in something. As a young child, it is easy to see how the reality of his situation could cripple him, but it is almost unbelievable that he is willing to ignore reality so much. On the other hand, sometimes children are remarkably resilient and know that they need to play along with their guardians just as much as their guardians need to protect them from the harms of reality. In this way, Patrick and Michael could never have survived separately they way they do together. Their bonds allow them to give and take from each other without hesitation in the way that they always have. This helps life to feel normal while the world is falling apart around them. It is only when this bond is compromised that the true horrors begin to set in.
If you know you can win if you follow the rules, read The End Games.
Martin, T. Michael. The End Games. Balzer + Bray, 2013. Kindle Edition.