My number one most anticipated 2013 young adult debut was The End Games by T. Michael Martin, and so when a package containing this highly coveted book arrived on my door step, I rightly freaked out in the best possible fashion. The official summary contains so many of my favorite elements – sibling relationships, video games, zombies, and romance. Not to mention the awesome West Virginia setting (I’ve been there for a basketball game – WVU vs. UConn). And so, I went into The End Games with expectations of post-apocalyptic excitement — for the most part my expectations were met.
Michael is 17 years old and on the run with his five year old brother Patrick. The two are part of an intricate game where they receive messages from ‘The Game Master’. During the day they look for others who have survived as they have — also searching for the safe zone. When night falls though, the Bellows come out. The Bellows are these zombie-like creatures who can’t speak except to echo what they hear and who also cannot come out during the day. Michael and Patrick rock at killing Bellows, as they are pretty great gamers. Unfortunately the Bellows begin to evolve, which makes the Game that much harder. It’s a race against time as the two search for the Safe Zone and for Michael, he finds romance along the way (but not enough to turn this into a cheese fest).
Typically for me to enjoy a book I have to like the main character. Luckily The End Games does not have an annoying protagonist. Michael is wonderful. He deeply cares for his brother Patrick and is such a loving caretaker. I liked that this kind of subverts typical images of masculinity in that we get to see Michael really behave in a nurturing fashion. Like, when you get the true depth of just how much he does for Patrick, you’ll totally get why I am saying this — so I guess that’s kind of a hint that you need to go pre-order The End Games right this second. Another thing I liked about Michael was that he was using the end of times/apocalypse as an opportunity to change and be brave. His life has not exactly been easy and so it’s not hard to make the leap as to why he’d be happier when the world is falling apart.
Patrick plays a pretty huge role in T. Michael Martin’s debut novel. There were points where I wanted to hug Patrick and points where I wanted to strangle him, which probably shows how awful I am as a person. Now, I know he’s five years old and I can’t exactly expect him to behave as a mini-adult. Which okay, that is awesome that the author made it so Patrick came across as very realistic. AND he also has a few behavioral issues. However, there were still a few points where I was like, really kid, come ON. Again, this is because I am awful and really has nothing to do with the book.
One thing that I felt The End Games totally excelled at and well, did fricken fabulous was the world building. Here’s the thing, when an author is writing something post-apocalyptic I have to believe it. I have to think to myself, yes this makes sense. Otherwise, you won’t really have buy-in from me as a reader on the book. It’s all a part of my engagement. Thankfully, the Bellows and the Game are artfully done. In the beginning, we’re kind of thrown into the end times. There’s not exactly an explanation of why it’s happening. We just know that West Virginia has been overrun by Bellows and there is a safe zone. As the book continues, it’s gradually revealed what has happened. I love that. I love that I basically get to kind of test the waters as a reader and am trusted to kind of put the pieces together and figure it out. I also want to mention that I loved how well the setting was incorporated. There’s a lot of talk of coal country and small towns dirt poor towns mixed with wealthy areas, just like real life West Virginia. There’s also a lot of references to West Virginia University, as there should be since it’s kind of a big deal for that state.
To be 100% honest with all of you, The End Games took me forever to read. Not that it’s a bad thing, just the writing was super tiny and the copy I read was 370 pages, plus I had crazy work hours while trying to read. Also, I should tell you that the writing style is very different from a lot of the YA I read. It’s fairly complex and a bit literary. So, I think if you liked books like The Passage or The Reapers Are The Angels or The Road, you’ll end up liking The End Games. It did take me a little while to get into, but on the whole I ended up digging the different writing style. One thing that totally helped drive my interest in the book and kept me turning the pages was that there were lots of HOLY F— twists. Straight up, I like things like that. I like not being able to predict a book. I like when I go WHAT THE EFF JUST HAPPENED! DID I READ THAT RIGHT?!
However, despite all of my praise, basically just one thing pissed me off: One of the characters calls Michael’s mother who keeps going back to her abusive husband, Patrick’s father weak. I found this super annoying because it feeds into victim blaming and lots of misconceptions about unhealthy relationships. Like, I don’t think people realize how hard it is to leave an unhealthy relationship and that it’s a hell of a lot more complex than if they ever hit me I’d be out the door. Especially when you consider the fact that Michael’s mom is in poverty, so finances definitely will play a part. Further, Ron, the stepfather, isn’t abusive 100% of the time. He’s also Patrick’s father, and Patrick needs expensive pills. Also, the cost of fighting for custody isn’t exactly cheap. Now, I know the average reader won’t pick up on this because not everyone is obsessive about that topic the way that I am. So, take what I say with a grain of salt and note that my peeves are not likely to be your peeves.
That aside, I ended up really enjoying The End Games by T. Michael Martin and the journey that it brought me on. I loved that there was an actual conclusion and resolution instead of a cliffhanger. I’m not sure, but I think this book is a standalone, at least according to goodreads. The writing style is unique, the characters well drawn, and the world building (which FYI, not anti-science) is legit. In all, if you like post apocalyptic books, you definitely need to add this one to your TBR.
Disclosure: Received for review
Other reviews of The End Games by T. Michael Martin
At the time of writing this March 23, I haven’t found any reviews on google to link. If you review this, drop your link in the comments and I will add it up here.