I chose The End Games as I was intrigued by the synopsis: the whole “two brothers on the road fighting monsters” thing reminded me of Supernatural, my favorite TV show.
Our protagonists for this particular tale are seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old half-brother Patrick.
Michael is your typical older brother devoted to looking after his younger sibling. I really liked how Michael was written as not falling into the belief that there was something wrong with his brother for being autistic, but rather realized it was everything else around his brother that overwhelmed him that was the problem. This is the opposite of how Michael’s stepfather viewed Patrick; he had the child hospitalized in the past and planned to do so again before the brothers ran away during the start of the apocalypse.
In the beginning, I enjoyed reading about Patrick as well. This was mostly due to my interest in seeing how the author portrayed the character’s autism. A sensitivity to synthetic fabrics and shutting down if he got too scared are two examples of Patrick’s autistic traits. As one can imagine, the latter trait is rather dangerous when being pursued by zombies and violent people.
In fact, a good amount of the tension in the story comes from Michael trying to prevent Patrick from doing just that. He gives his brother Atipax pills to help keep him calm while traveling the road trying to reach the safe zone—a place said to be free of “Bellows,” this story’s version of the walking dead, and where they hope to find their mother.
I don’t remember it ever being addressed whether Patrick consented to taking the pills. Although it’s unfortunate, it’s common for young children to be prescribed medication without much say in the matter, or to defer to their caretakers. While it wasn’t explicit, I think this had more to do with his age than his autism, so it didn’t bother me personally.
A good part of the book revolves around something known as the game. Which is basically a set of instructions on how to make it from one day to the next, one town to the next. Points are earned for killing Bellows, restocking on ammo, et cetera, in the way a video game might be played.
A mysterious figure known as the Game Master who appears to Michael to give instructions invented the game, the rules, and its point system—or so Michael would have Patrick believe. In reality, Michael is the mastermind behind the game, using it as one more way to keep Patrick calm on their journey. Michael essentially teaches Patrick through the game that people and Bellows can’t hurt him. It’s against the rules. So you can imagine Patrick’s distress and confusion when both Bellows and humans start to break these rules in increasingly violent ways.
Patrick is at least partially humanized through his emotions and voice. His reactions are believable for a young boy and that’s where an audience would connect with him. However, he is often used as a tool to create tension in the story and drive Michael’s journey. Everything he does is about protecting Patrick, keeping Patrick calm, and making sure Patrick doesn’t have a meltdown. In the end, this takes away not just from the character of Patrick, but Michael as well.
There’s a bit of romance to this book, which is one of the few times Michael’s motivations fall outside of keeping Patrick safe and finding their mother, but it’s secondary to what else is going on. This was fine with me, as I don’t enjoy an overabundance of romance during a story where the main goal is living to see the next day.
This book definitely had its creepy moments, especially with the first encounter of the cultists—a group of people convinced that the Bellows are God’s chosen for the rapture. After several more encounters with the cult and the Bellows, however, I was ready to reach the ending.
I’m not sure how I feel about this book in the end. Parts piqued my interest and made me nervous for Michael and Patrick, but there were also moments I just wanted to flip ahead. I enjoyed it at first but was bored by the ending. I think other books have taken the protective older brother trope and did it better, without turning the younger brother into a plot device.