Monday, June 18, 2012

One Breath Away

One Breath Away, by Heather Gudenkauf.

Andrew would lose that sense of safety now. All the children would. All the hard work she invested in creating a warm welcoming environment, destroyed by this terrible man. The more she thought about it, the more indignant she became. Would the children have nightmares about school? Would they begin to shake and sweat upon arriving on school grounds? Would their stomachs clench and churn as they walked up the stairs and down the hallway to the classroom? Post-traumatic stress syndrome they called it, now a proven psychological disorder. Her heart would break if this was all the children would one day be able to recall of their third-grade year. What was your third-grade teacher's name? people would ask and they would respond, I don't remember her name but I sure remember the day a man with a gun came into our classroom!

A gun? the person would exclaim. What did your teacher do?

Her former students would shake their heads sadly, hands stuffed in their pockets and say,
Not a damn thing."

I currently have a pile of books - actually two piles - to read, and I started reading one of them today. However, I later found myself out and about with no reading material at hand, and so I started reading One Breath Away on my phone, on the Kindle app. I ended up reading the entire book in a day, and it's an excellent novel. It reminded me a lot of Jodi Picoult's style of writing, especially Nineteen Minutes which was also about a school shooting, and I flew through the novel in less than four hours.

The story is told by five different narrators. One of them, Augie, is 13 years old, and she and her brother P.J. have been sent to her mother's hometown of Broken Branch, Iowa, to live with her grandparents, after an accident in Arizona where her mother was very badly burned in the kitchen while cooking. Another of the narrators is Will, Augie's grandpa, who is unsure of how to handle the situation, as Augie and P.J. are inside the school, possibly with the gunman. The other narrators include Mrs. Oliver, an experienced third-grade teacher who tries her hardest to maim the gunman; Meg, a police officer, whose child attends the school but who has skipped today to stay with her dad, Meg's ex-husband; and Holly, mom to Augie and P.J., who is in the hospital in Arizona.

I really liked the way the author set up the novel with the five different narrators, because not only did it help to tell the story, but it also helped the reader "get inside" each character's head. We also see the different relationships, between Holly and her parents, as well as her kids; Mrs. Oliver and her husband; and Meg and a few others, which moves the story along at a rapid pace. There are other characters in the story too, of course, but the narrators and the people they are intimately connected with are the ones that Gudenkauf chooses to focus on, and overall I believe that was a wise choice, as not to bog down the story.

I have reviewed another of Heather Gudenkauf's novels in the past, and like this one, it was also very good; I will definitely be reading more of her stories in the future.

One Breath Away will be in stores on June 26th.

5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


  1. Ive just finished reading this book and I loved it :) Have you read The Hate List by Jennifer Brown ?
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