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One Breath Away Paperback – June 26, 2012
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-#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs on The Weight of Silence
"Heather Gudenkauf is one of those rare writers who can tell a tale with the skill of a poet while simultaneously cranking up the suspense until it's unbearable."
-New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen
"Brilliantly constructed, this will have you gripped until the last page."
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-Red Magazine on The Weight of Silence
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About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
The format is that the chapters are short and each is written from the perspective of one of four people - Holly who is in hospital suffering from severe burns, Augie her daughter, Will her father, who is taking care of Augie and her brother PJ whilst their mother recovers, and Meg who is a police officer in Broken Branch and whose daughter, like Augie and PJ, attends the school.
The action is quite tense and definitely becomes a page turner as the climax to the siege approaches. This is also as much a book about interpersonal relationships, particularly the rather fraught relationship between Will and his daughter and granddaughter and a lot of background is covered so that we come to realise how this situation has come about. The reader sees the situation from everyone's perspective and has a certain sympathy with each viewpoint which is quite a feat by the author.
This book works on a number of different levels. There is the suspense of the main story and the ever present possibility of a violent outcome, and uncertainty as to the identity and motivation of the gunman. The latter is almost a sub plot as various inhabitants of Broken Branch feel that the perpetrator may be connected with them. Additionally it is easy to identify with the hopes and fears of the main participants and the characters all seem to be multi dimensional in contrast with some books I have read recently where it is not possible to identify with any of the players. Highly recommended!
The story takes place on a snowy day in a small town in Iowa on the last school day before Spring break. A gunman has entered the school and as word gets out, horrified parents are pooled outside along with police and reporters. Most of the town's children up through age eighteen are held captive inside, since the school condenses grades k-12. To make matters worse, a blizzard is in full effect and the extra police help needed may not even make it in time.
At first, due to the subject matter, I didn't know how I would fare reading this book.
I wondered "why am I doing this to myself?" as I read. This book is emotional to say the least.
Author Heather Gudenkauf really drew me in and I found myself unable to put this book down for the first hundred pages or so. The book is told from a few different points of view. Police officer and mother Meg, grandfather Will, third grade teacher Mrs Oliver and eight grade student Augie, are some of the characters that we see the story through.
The characters are well developed and as they narrate, we get flashbacks and their previous memories. I have to mention, I had a hard time telling the two moms Holly and Meg apart. Since the book switches back and forth from different narrators, I had to keep checking to see which mom was which. One mother is a cop, the other is lying in a hospital bed, but I still found myself mixing them up.
Eight grader Augie gives up the chance at freedom as some of the children are able to sneak out of the school, but because her little brother P.J. is still somewhere inside, she refuses to leave him. Moments like these invested me in the story and its characters.
The gunman winds up in Mrs. Oliver's third grade classroom and as she tries to bargain with him in order to try and protect her students, I got the chills reading. She thinks back on her forty years of teaching and swears she will not die on this day.
Speaking of Mrs. Oliver, I liked her character the most. Especially when she wears a tacky bedazzled denim dress that one of her students gifted her, just to please her student.
About halfway through the book, I felt the story lost its momentum a bit. The scenes from inside the school were suspenseful, especially from Mrs. Oliver's point of view since the gunman was in her classroom. However, in between the flashbacks and the trying to figure out the gunman's identity, my interested began to stray.
Once the mid read hump passed, I couldn't put this book down again, I just had to know how it would all end. When the gunman's identity was revealed, I did think it was a bit of a far stretch. For some reason, it just didn't sit well with me. I have to say, for a story with this type of premise, it all ends well.
Upon reading more about the author I learned that she was on campus at her university one day when a gunman entered a classroom and shot several students then killed himself. This tragic event moved her to write this emotional story.
I teared up a bit as I read some scenes, mostly because of the children. I think that's the mark of a good author, one that will evoke emotion in a reader. Although I had some issues with One Breath Away, I still enjoyed it overall.
This is a tense and heavy read and I recommend it if you're looking for a story that will affect you as you turn the pages. All in all, I enjoyed Heather Gudenkauf's style of writing and her storytelling was intriguing. I would definitely want to read this author again.