All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

One Breath Away – Heather Gudenkauf

on July 24, 2012

One Breath Away
Heather Gudenkauf
Harlequin MIRA
2012, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Broken Branch is a small town, one of the few of its kind left with a school that still encompasses all grades from kindergarten to year 12. Meg Barrett is one of the local police officers and normally her young daughter would be at school but Meg lost an argument with her ex-husband about access and their daughter is with him for the day. Never has Meg been so glad for something like that when she is called to the school amid a flurry of reports that there is a gunman. The entire school is in lockdown and reports are conflicting – no one knows how many people there may be inside, what weapons they have or what they want.

Will Thwaites is an old farmer, busy with work every day. Recently he has been reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren from his only daughter Holly. Holly was horrifically burned in a housefire and remains in hospital in another state recovering and Will’s wife has gone to be with her. Holly left Broken Branch, the farm and her parents at 17 and her two children, Augie and PJ have heard many things growing up about how much Holly hated the farm, and how resentful she was of her father. Now they are living on the farm with their grandfather in Broken Branch, the place their mother couldn’t wait to leave.

Augie just wants to go back home to her mother. She doesn’t like being here and she’s determined not to like her grandfather either. She’s fiercely protective of her younger brother PJ – she feels that she has to be. Augie is in 8th grade and has made only one tentative friend in her time here and right now she is huddled in her classroom, fearing for her brother. When she has the chance to escape, she chooses not to, instead going back to look for her brother in his second grade classroom.

Evelyn Oliver teachers the second grade. She is retiring soon after a long career and when the gunman enters her class, she’s determined not to fail her students. She’s not going to be the one that retires amid whispers that ‘she let it happen’ or ‘she did nothing’. She’s never let her students down before and she’s not going to start now, even if she is the one that doesn’t come out of this situation.

Holly is lying in hospital, recovering from severe oil burns that have disfigured her and leave her in a painkiller induced stupor. Whilst she is recovering, her thoughts turn to her own childhood in Broken Branch and the events that led her to leave it all behind, including her family, all those years ago. Broken Branch and her grandfather’s farm is the last place she wants her two children to be, but she had no choice – now after a hysterical phone call from Augie, all she wants is to see them again.

One Breath Away is Heather Gudenkauf’s most recent novel and again she tackles family relationships and the ties that bind. This whole novel takes place over the course of less than a day and revolves around the reports coming out of the Broken Branch school that a man with a gun has entered the building. As the school went into lockdown, it was almost impossible at first for the police on the outside to get a clear indication of where he was. There were conflicting reports and the information they had to wade through was extensive. In the age of everyone owning a cell/mobile phone, the 911 line gets jammed with calls, making it hard to pick out exactly what is relevant and what is just hysteria.

The story focuses a lot on relationships and the events that led to several of the people being involved in the precise ways in which they are. Augie and PJ shouldn’t be in this town, shouldn’t be at this school, but they are. While their mother lies recovering, they are being cared for by their grandfather. PJ has his own reasons for wondering why the gunman has chosen his particular classroom to step in to and there is at least one other student who believes the same thing. The second grade teacher Evelyn Oliver considers whether or not the perpetrator is a previous student and Meg Barrett, the officer on the outside also wonders whether or not there is a personal connection to herself as well. This is all extremely well done and the relationships are deeply credible and contain just the right amount of love and also fracture so that they are not unbelievably idyllic nor dysfunctional to the ridiculous. Although I did question Holly’s reasoning behind leaving her family forever when she left Broken Branch, I could understand her reasons for leaving the town.

However because of the time and care paid to fleshing out the relationships between the characters, I often felt that there was a lack of tension in the novel, especially for one that revolves around a potential school shooting. There are some sections where time is devoted to some historical moment when really I’d just rather be back at the school finding out exactly what is happening – who this gunman is and what his motivations were! In a book that deals with a both intricate and intimate family relationships and also a thrilling suspenseful event, it’s a very fine balance and sometimes the balance was tipped towards the families leaving the situation with the gunman on ice which could be a fraction frustrating. However I did think that the identity of the gunman was well thought out and well laid throughout the story, as were the ‘red-herrings’. Overall I think One Breath Away is a very solid and well written story, just not quite as suspenseful as I thought the story line warranted.


Book #141 of 2012

One Breath Away counts towards my participation in July NetGalley Knockdown. It’s the 3rd title read

3 responses to “One Breath Away – Heather Gudenkauf

  1. Marg says:

    I have this one. I need to read it!

  2. VeganYANerds says:

    I find it strange that a novel about a shooting wouldn’t be intense and that the book takes place over one day, it feels so short when trying to deal with such a serious and relevant subject. But from the beginning of your review I felt intrigued and worried, so I think this is something I have to read!

  3. […] “…because of the time and care paid to fleshing out the relationships between the characters, I often felt that there was a lack of tension in the novel, especially for one that revolves around a potential school shooting. … Overall I think One Breath Away is a very solid and well written story, just not quite as suspenseful as I thought the story line warranted.” All the Books I Can Read […]

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