Rex Zero, the Great Pretender is the third instalment in the adventures of the preteen titular protagonist. Set in Ottawa in 1963, the new novel finds Rex about to start Grade 7 and looking forward to attending a new middle school with all his friends. When he learns, however, that his family is moving to a new house across town, Rex contrives a plan that will allow him to attend the same school as his friends without his parents or teachers knowing he’s in the wrong place. His scheme eventually unravels, but not before it inadvertently makes him the target of a local bully, who proceeds to stalk him for the latter half of the book.
In an afterword to the first book of the series, Tim Wynne-Jones wrote that Rex Zero is based on memories of his own Ottawa childhood. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that like the earlier books, The Great Pretender has the ambling pace of a memoir. The plot might have possessed more drive had Wynne-Jones steered it in slightly different – though perhaps formulaic – directions. But formulaic capers are not Wynne-Jones’ objective, and he eventually corrals his narrative into a delightfully coherent and touching resolution.
Rife with cultural references that many kids may find obscure – remind me again who Bobby Rydell is? – The Great Pretender is nonetheless an entertainingly picaresque tale of what life might have been like for a particularly imaginative every-boy in Ottawa nearly half a century ago.