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Rex Zero and the End of the World

by Tim Wynne-Jones

It’s the summer of 1962, and Rex Zero, nearly 11, is the new kid in Ottawa. Rex wants to figure out how to fit in before school starts – he’s going to have to speak French, for example, and the only French he knows is “Merci bon Dieu,” a line from a Harry Belafonte record. On the back of his trusty green three-speed steed, Diablo, Rex zooms around his new neighbourhood, searching for friends and discovering what a very different world Ottawa is from West Vancouver.

In Adams Park, Rex encounters Alphonse, a crazy man who carries a placard proclaiming the end of the world on October 23, and a black-clad beatnik poet who digs turning “the world into words.” Dad takes the family out on a Sunday drive to see the “Diefenbunker,” where the Government of Canada and the CBC will be kept safe from Cold War missiles. And along the way, Rex finds new friends who are on a mission to find an escaped panther that’s supposedly living in the bushes and terrorizing the neighbourhood.

Rex Zero and the End of the World is Tim Wynne-Jones’ most compelling novel since The Maestro. He has totally captured this particular historical moment – Canada in 1962 in the thick of the Cold War – and, through the enthralling narrative voice he’s created, made it truly come alive to contemporary readers. A character who will utterly enchant readers, Rex Zero is funny (without always realizing how hilarious he is), creative, imaginative, inventive, and exasperating – everything you’d expect of a 10-year-old trying to negotiate his way through a world he doesn’t always understand.

The nuances are just right. Bunkers and bombs might be part of Rex’s life, but so are paint-by-numbers kits and collecting tadpoles. Perhaps one of the best moments in the novel happens when Rex and his friend Kathy are surprised by the air-raid siren, not realizing it’s a test. Rex isn’t sure who cries first, but they walk back to his house, holding hands, with Rex feeling life isn’t fair because he’s just four cards shy of having all 88 CFL football cards! It’s a brilliant moment in a novel that’s chock-full of them. Happily, Wynne-Jones is writing a sequel, Rex Zero, the King of Nothing, so readers will have another chance to hook up with this great new fictional character.