________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 21. . . .February 1, 2013


Record Breaker.

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
141 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55469-959-9 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55469-960-5 (pdf),
ISBN 978-1-55469-961-2 (epub).

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.

Review by Nicole Dalmer.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



I sat at the kitchen table and flipped through the pages of my Guinness Book of Records.

Just one more try. There had to be something I could do. One measly little thing I could be the best at. It didn’t have to be something important. Anything would do.

I took a pencil from a schoolbag and started circling anything that was even a little bit possible. Eating a whole roast ox in less than forty-two days. I could do that, easy – I bet I could do it in a week – but where would I get a whole roast ox? I circled it anyway, just in case. There was someone who’d eaten four hundred and eighty oysters in an hour. That was only eight a minute, and how hard could that be? I hadn’t ever eaten an oyster, but I was pretty sure they were tiny. No way would my mom buy me four hundred and eighty of them though. I’d had a hard enough time getting those eggs. But I circled that one too.


After receiving The Guinness Book of Records from his aunt Jane, Jack Laker becomes a 12½- year-old kid on a mission to beat one of the world records in his book. It’s 1963: the threat of a Russian nuclear attack is very real, duck-and-cover drills take place on a regular basis at Jack’s school, and President Kennedy has recently been assassinated. Closer to home, Jack is still coming to terms with the recent death of his baby sister, an event that seems to have had a lasting effect on his mother and father. His father is often out in the backyard, stoically working away at constructing a bomb shelter, and Jack’s mother seems to be in a state of permanent sadness, never leaving her room. To try and help his mom feel better and to break away from the glum mood of his house, and with the help of a few friends, new and old, Jack finds new records to break, including sausage eating, face slapping and rocking chair rocking. When none of these record-breaking attempts work, Jack’s friends help him find a different way to reach out and communicate with his family.

      In Record Breaker, Robin Stevenson has crafted an enjoyable and moving tale. Jack is a relatable character, built with right balance of flaws and charm that allows the reader to truly explore and examine the story through his eyes. What made this particular story unique were the inclusion of strange and quirky world records featured in The Guinness Book of Records, as well as the historical factoids, events and people of the early 1960’s. Of additional note was the delicate way in which Stevenson handled the sudden death of Annie, Jack’s infant sister. Readers experience the aftermath of Annie’s death through Jack’s actions and words. While the author never hides or downplays any of the facets of the infant’s passing, the author creates a believable view of how a child would understand and process this unimaginable and tragic event. Stevenson’s construction and use of dialogue is particularly notable. Word choice and tone matched the situations and characters perfectly, carrying forward both the plot and character development. Interactions between the children of the book, between the adults and between children and adults, are all convincingly handled. Despite the many discrete elements of the book (Jack’s many Guinness Book of Records-record-breaking attempts, the assassination of President Kennedy, the sudden death of Jack’s infant sister, and Jack’s mother’s resulting emotional and mental health), the author coherently weaves each of these facets into the overarching story, allowing each of these elements to individually and uniquely shape and change each character. Never once did the story feel muddled or partitioned.

      Record Breaker is an enticing, well-paced read that will delight readers with its engaging dialogue, its historical setting and a well-developed cast of relatable characters.


Highly Recommended.

Nicole Dalmer is a recent graduate of the Master of Library and Information Studies program and is now a Public Services Librarian at the Herbert T. Coutts Education and Physical Education Library at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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