cover image Rex Zero and the End of the World

Rex Zero and the End of the World

Tim Wynne-Jones, . . FSG, $16 (186pp) ISBN 978-0-374-33467-3

Wynne-Jones (A Thief in the House of Memory ) draws on his own childhood to describe events leading up to the Cold War. In the summer of 1962, narrator Rex Harrison and his family move to Ottawa from Vancouver. The tension between the U.S. and Russia permeates everything this summer. A homeless man announces the end of the world on a placard, while others build bomb shelters. It seems only Rex's parents aren't taking the threats seriously. One evening, while walking his dog in the park, Rex's dog pulls him toward something hiding in the bushes. A brief glance is enough to convince him that it's dangerous ("It tilts back its head and roars"). His older sister thinks it's a mutant: the fallout from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, Rex's new friends believe it's a panther that escaped from a zoo a few years ago. Throughout the summer, the kids work on a plan to capture the beast. The author subtly draws a parallel between the intangible Cold War fear and fear of the elusive creature. Despite the weighty themes, Wynne-Jones writes with a light, often humorous touch and maintains a perspective true to an 11-year-old's perspective. As Rex muses on the idea of the world ending, he understands that "one world seems to come crashing to a halt and you invent another." This winning hero paints a universe both hopeful and realistic, one that readers may well want to visit. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)