Review: One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher:  Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 384
Source:  Contest win at Revolving Bookcase

In her most emotionally charged novel to date, New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered.

In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.

Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town’s children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.

As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.


Review: An amazingly gripping and shell shocking read, One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf is a story that rings true in today’s society and is one that will not leave this reader’s mind for some time.

We live in a world where we have to be on alert constantly. There are people out there that care less for the lives of others and see those lives as disposable. The world we live in today is one of greed and immorality and a place where even the innocence of our children can be ripped away in a heartbeat. One Breath Away is this story. This is a story of a man set on revenge and without conscience, who will harm those who gets in his way without a second thought.

Ms. Gudenkauf writes her story from the POV of five of the main characters within the story. Holly, a mother of two wonderful children who is in the hospital recovering from severe burns from an accident; Augie, Holly’s daughter; Mrs. Oliver a teacher at the school where Augie and her brother, P.J. attend; Will, Augie’s Grandfather and Holly’s Father and Meg, one of the town’s Police Officers. If not done correctly, all of these POV changes could easily have been disastrous; however this is not the case. The changes are seamless and truly lend to the effect of the story.

One Breath Away begins in such a captivating way that it truly grabbed me from the very beginning and beckoned me to continue reading. I became emotionally involved with each of these characters; gripping the book from tension and feeling my heart skip in anxiety and nervousness. Being a mother of two younger children, myself, both school-aged, I could relate to the terror of such a thing happening. Gut-wrenching and soul searing to the extreme.

Within this story, the author takes us into each of the main character’s lives – using flashbacks of past occurrences that make the characters the people they are, incidents that shaped them into the individuals that will affect how they handle the terror of what happens when a school is taken hostage one snow-stormy day in a small town of Iowa. I think that my favorite character would have to be Augie. She is so strong and courageous, unwilling to leave her younger brother behind to save herself. Augie will do anything to protect him and her countless selfless acts endured me strongly to her.

Told in vivid detail, One Breath Away is a story filled with twists and turns and several surprises. I honestly thought that I had the gunman figured out several times, only to read a few pages later that I was totally and completely wrong – not to mentioned shocked with the reason that I was wrong. I loved how the author was able to do this. Heather Gudenkauf has an incredible talent which shines through in One Breath Away. The flow of the story was excellent, the detail and character development was wonderful and the fact that she has written a story that truly focuses on the truth of society makes this a gripping story that many readers will be able to relate to on many different levels. I cannot wait to read more works by this author and highly recommend One Breath Away to anyone looking for a true-to-life type of story that will hold them captive from the first page until the last.

Favorite Quote: “I’m in a closet. He put me in a closet.”
My mind is spinning. Who could be doing this? Who would do this to my children? “Hang up,” I tell her. “Hang up and call 9-1-1 right now, Augie. Then call me back. Can you do that?” I hear her sniffles. “Augie,” I say again, more sharply. “Can you do that?”
“Yeah,” she finally says. “I love you, Mom,” she says softly.
“I love you, too.” My eyes fill with tears and I can feel the moisture pool beneath the bandages that cover my injured eye.
I wait for Augie to disconnect when I hear three quick shots, followed by two more and Augie’s piercing screams.