________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Rex Zero and the End of the World.

Tim Wynne-Jones.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2006.
195 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88899-759-0.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Jen Waters.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


The TV show says that the Cold War is heating up. I'm not sure exactly what that means except that handsome President Kennedy makes threats against the Soviet Union and ugly Premier Khrushchev, who looks like a bald bear with squinty eyes and bad teeth, hits his desk at the UN with his shoe and makes threats against the U.S.A. The threats sound a lot worse in Russian. Sometimes there are pictures of Khrushchev smiling with his friend Fidel Castro, who has a big beard and smokes cigars and reminds me of Groucho Marx. He's the boss of Cuba and the Americans really don't like Cuba, which is too bad for them because it's right next door.

Things are really not looking good.

It is the summer of 1962, and Rex Norton-Norton, his four sisters and one little brother have just moved from Vancouver to Ottawa. As Rex says, "It's a well-known fact that families move in the summer so that their children can wander around a new neighbourhood for two months in lonely despair." But for Rex, an 11-year-old with a keen sense of adventure and rather active imagination, loneliness is not an option, and he manages to meet two boys his age to hang out with. James Stewart and Buster (Kevin) Keaton rename Rex Norton-Norton (a name of Welsh descent) Rex Zero, because Norton minus Norton equals zero. Even when he is not with the boys, Rex entertains himself by doing painting by numbers, reading Punch magazines and Enid Blyton books, keeping a lookout for the library police (because he accidentally took a book from the West Vancouver Public Library with him to Ottawa), and checking for Communists with his sister, Annie Oakley.

     Annie is not the only one fascinated by Communists all of Ottawa seems to be caught up in the paranoia and excitement of the Cold War. Air raids, bombs shelters and gas masks are on everyone's mind, and television specials on Cuba and the Soviet Union only fuel the fire. As 11 year-old boys, Rex and his friends are similarly obsessed with the prospect of nuclear war, but they do not fully understand what is happening which leads to some interesting theories on their behalf. They are also attempting to track down a panther that has escaped from a zoo and have been drawn up in the story of Alphonse (nicknamed Dump Orbit), an old French veteran of the Great War who has been more than a little "unhinged" by his experiences and is prophesying the end of the world.

     Wynne-Jones does a masterful job of capturing the time period in a novel that will not only appeal to boys today, but to their great uncles and grandfathers as well. His skill is in the details, seen as he describes the streets of Ottawa, the activities of Rex and his friends, and the distinct personalities of Rex's many sisters. The novel's afterword explaining the similarities between Rex and Wynne-Jones is appreciated but almost unnecessary: the reader is so taken up by the details that it is quite obvious to hear Wynne-Jones, himself, grew up in Ottawa (after moving from Vancouver) during the Cold War.

     Hearing the boys talk is much like listening to some of my tween and teen friends at the library discuss their theories about global warming and World War Three; there is evidently some knowledge of history and current events, but it is mixed with a much larger dose of imagination that comes from comics, books and films (and more recently, video games and the Internet). Many of the theories shared by Rex and by my more modern day friends do not really make much sense and at times are quite implausible, but they certainly are amusing to hear. I predict that any boy or young teen who has "played" at war (which in reality, is most or all boys) or thought about the end of the world will sympathize with Rex and greatly enjoy this novel.

Highly Recommended.

Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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