It’s 1963, and because he’s afraid the Russians will drop an atomic bomb on Ottawa, or the steel factories in nearby Hamilton, Jack’s dad is building a fallout shelter in their backyard. Or, he was, before Jack’s baby sister died of SIDS. Now the backyard is a mess, and Jack’s mom can’t even get out of bed most days, although his sister died almost a year ago. Twelve-year-old Jack thinks he can cheer up his family by setting a world record, like those listed in his Guinness Book of World Records, but his continued attempts just get him into trouble. When he makes a new friend, a girl named Kate whose mother suffered her own depression after being blacklisted for something she wrote, Jack gets some new ideas about what his family needs.
Record Breaker is an honest look at how a child might view a parent’s depression, deftly showing Jack’s sense of guilt, abandonment, anger and confusion. The historical setting is subtle, dropping hints about the politics and events of the early 1960s without over-explaining them, which could lead to interesting classroom or family discussions. Middle-grade readers should find Jack a sympathetic, realistic, and sometimes humorous character.