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One Breath Away Paperback – June 26, 2012
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About the Author
Heather Gudenkauf is an Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband and children. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and running.
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Top customer reviews
One Breath Away is set in a small Iowa town called Broken Branch. It has what felt like a million narrators but actually turns out to be five:
Holly - Mother of Augie and PJ, living in Arizona at this time, hospitalized for severe burns after an oil fire.
Augie - Holly's 12 year old daughter
Mrs. Oliver - PJ's 3rd grade teacher
Meg - The worlds least proactive police officer
Will - Holly's father/Augie & PJ's grandfather
Holly is a throwaway character, simply necessary to link everyone together and the story wouldn't have been changed if she wasn't in it. Augie is frustrating and careless and absolutely stupid with a sympathetic longing to protect her little brother and meant to help Will redeem himself by having another go with rearing an annoying teenage girl. Mrs. Oliver is a stereotypical elementary school teacher. Actually she starts off interesting and even a little sexy, recalling the way that Mr. Oliver kissed the inside of her neck but it's as if she ages as the novel goes and by the end she's an elderly, retiring teacher. And Meg is one of the worst police officers ever. She spends 80% of the novel putting around, feeling glad her daughter wasn't in school that day and ignoring her phone.
None of these people make good decisions at any time in the course of this novel, except maybe Holly, who doesn't do much besides lay in a hospital bed, though everything we're told about her proves that she too is unable to make smart decisions. Pretty much every step of the way I felt extremely exasperated with all of them.
It's also worth noting that this book is 370 pages, divided into 116 chapters. Each chapter jumps into a different characters head so the reader spend so little time with each person, that it's impossible to really feel part of the experience. Its used to create suspense, keeping us in the dark at moments of action or realization. But it's so obvious in it's execution that the suspense doesn't grip you but just rolls over you, keeping you passively turning the pages in mild disinterest.
The clutch of this novel is Who Dun It -- who is the crazy person with a gun? They have all sorts of ideas. None of which make any sense and each of which is tied up with a big bow by the end of the novel, making it the neatest bloody school invasion book ever.
A gunman has entered a school in the sleepy Iowa town of Broken Branch. A thousand miles away, Holly lies helplessly in a hospital bed in Arizona, recovering from severe burns while her two children are trapped in that school. Her daughter Augie is determined to save younger brother PJ. Third grade teacher Mrs. Oliver will risk her life to save her students. Grandfather Will waits helplessly outside. Police officer Meg must find a way to prevent a tragedy in the making. Not everyone will survive.
ONE BREATH AWAY will grab you from the first page and won't let go of you until long after you've finished the last page. The characters are so clearly written they jumped from the pages into my mind as I accompanied them on their journey's throughout the book. Told through several narrators, each POV was clear and distinct and written with a unique and compelling voice in a way that few other writers can do as well as Gudenkauf.
The author's previous works, THESE THINGS HIDDEN and THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE, are both masterpieces as well. I always feel a big of sadness reading one of Gudenkauf's books, because she writes such compelling books and because I know I'll have to wait a while for her next one...yet I know the wait will be worth it.
I often reread books that I love, and I've reread ONE BREATH AWAY several times.