Monday, 10 August 2015

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.

Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town's children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.

As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.

One Breath Away is a contemporary fiction novel set in small town Iowa where a lockdown is underway at the local school. A run of the mill day has taken a sinister turn for the community of Broken Branch with a gunman in the school and his motives unclear.

The story is told through five different characters, with alternating chapters. The choice of characters is varied with both people inside and outside the school. Inside we have Augie, a thirteen year old student, and Mrs. Oliver, a teacher whose classroom is being held hostage by the gunman. Outside of the school is Meg, a police officer on the scene; Will, grandfather of Augie as well as her younger brother who is inside the school; and then Holly, mother of Augie, who is holed up in hospital hundreds of miles away after a freak accident.

Often times multiple perspectives can make for a jumbled reading experience, but in One Breath Away the number of focal characters lends to the story. Although we're experiencing the lockdown from a number of view points, there is still a lot of mystery in the narrative and that really keeps you page turning - at least it did me!

At the heart of One Breath Away is the people; not only the main characters who you form an attachment to but also the community of Broken Branch that rallies together at this traumatic time. Small town settings are some of my favourites because you really get a sense of the town, the people and the lives they lead; you become a part of the community almost, and this rings true with One Breath Away.

This was my first time reading Heather Gudenkauf's writing and it was pretty positive, but I did have one gripe with the book and that was the ending. Without giving too much away, I think the outcome of the lockdown could have been a little stronger, with the end kind of tumbling together.

If you're interested in realistic fiction, think along the lines of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain, then I'd highly recommend One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf.


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