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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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The story opens with Holly Baker, a young woman who is lying in a hospital bed in Arizona after suffering serious injuries in a fire. Recovering from burns, grafts, and the anxiety of separation from her two children, Augie and P. J., Holly's angst intensifies when she receives a call from her daughter Augie. She says she is in a closet in the school at Broken Branch--where she is staying with Holly's parents--and a man is shooting.
From there, readers are shown the intensity of the situation in alternating points of view as the narrators tell the taut story as it unfolds. From Holly, helpless in Arizona, to Meg, a police officer with her own issues, we come to know the fear, the helplessness, and the mystery of each of them, and wonder, as they do, why, in this previously safe community, someone would do this horrendous thing. Augie's voice tells the story of her family, as well as her fears in this situation, just as we learn more about the teacher, Mrs. Oliver, in whose classroom the gunman waits, his agenda and his story totally unknown.
Breathtaking, the short intense chapters lead the reader to the startling conclusion, asking these questions and more: Who is this man and why has he targeted this school? Is he a disgruntled former student? Is he a parent in a bitter custody battle over a child? Or does he have no connection at all with any of these victims?
Aptly named, One Breath Away kept me rapidly turning pages, breathless with anticipation as I guessed one after the other of these possibilities as each red herring was introduced...until finally, I started to put it together just before the final reveal. A quick and captivating read, this one earned five stars.
Although intrigued by the opening chapters of the book, which initially made me sit up late into the night to read it, something was missing for me as the story gradually unfolded. Maybe it was due to the constant shifting of perspective that I never really felt connected to any of the characters; or maybe it was due to the fact that after the gunman breaks into the school, not much actually happens. Having children myself, I could not imagine anything more terrifying than having them held hostage by a crazy gunman, and yet I did not get that same feeling of dread and suspense from this novel, nor did I understand the motives of the gunman when his identity was finally revealed. There were a lot of leads in the story which did not really go anywhere, and not enough mystery to keep me captivated.
That said, the book is a pleasant and easy read, does not contain gruesome details or overly dark undertones, and would make a good book to take on holidays or to the beach when simply wanting to chill out. Not one of my favourites and not one I would rush out and buy again, but an ok read.