Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review of ONE BREATH AWAY by Heather Gudenkauf

“He has a gun. He has P.J. and he has a gun.” [Augie's phone call to her mother, Holly.]
I want to dive right into telling you about this book but simply telling you about it does not do it justice.  One Breath Away is an emotionally charged novel that you cannot put it down once you pick it up. Complexity aside, it is about a small town in the middle of a hostage situation and the story is told through the eyes of five different people.  Nevertheless, even small towns are newsworthy once in a while. The book’s characters are all conflicted by their pasts and their present and don’t know until the very end that they are the most unlikely of heroes. 

It is a cold and snowy March day when an unknown gunman takes a third grade classroom hostage. It is the day before Spring Break starts at the only school in town.  To make matters worse, Broken Branch, Iowa is suddenly cut off by snowstorm leaving a community shocked and in fear for the safety of their children.  As soon as the intruder enters school, the school is put on lockdown with no idea of the danger that awaits them. 

Holly Thwaite left Broken Branch eighteen years ago and promised herself she would never look back.  When injuries from a kitchen fire leave her recovering in an Arizona hospital, she makes a decision that she never expected to make when she sends her children to Broken Branch to be looked after by their grandfather, a man she never wanted in her children’s lives.  It is not until a phone call from her daughter, Augie, that her perception of her father and Broken Bridge start to change.

Will Thwaite never understood why his daughter, Holly, ran away all those years ago but now he is responsible for her children and he vows to get things right this time.  When he finds out about the hostage situation, he promises that he will not to fail Holly again and he will do anything in his power to bring his grandchildren, Augie and P.J. out of the school safely. In the process, he finds himself struggling to make it to their aid as he assists others with their own obstacles along the way. He finally makes it to the school and is arrested for taking action. After being put in a police car for his own good, Will starts to wonder if he fails when the phone rings and other events follow.

Thirteen-year-old Augie has spent most of her life protecting her brother, P.J. and she is determined to rescue him even if it means putting herself in harm’s away. Holly has two opportunities to escape the school but does not take them. She refuses to fail her little brother and starts to recall why they ended up in Broken Bridge in the first place.  It was the only choice left after she refused to be separated from her little brother.  After everything her family has been through, she refuses to allow things to get worse.

Evelyn Oliver is a third grade teacher ready to finish the school year off with retirement and excited to enjoy that time with her husband, Cal.  Now, she’d faced with a predicament where she must protect her kids even if it means putting her life on the line. She finds herself conflicted with how she feels and how her husband would want her to respond. She recollects on how she met Cal and the things he loves most about her.  She knows he would want her to stay put but she also knows that he knows her too well. Cal knows that Evelyn will protect her students even if it means losing her life and he loves her for that. Evelyn is not sure why the gunman is in her classroom and she tries to figure out if she knows him.  She wonders if he is connected to one of her students.   

Evelyn is correct about the connection between the gunman and one of her students but she does not see that connection until she is in the same room with police officer, Meg Barrett.  Meg wants to know who the intruder is and why he has taken a school hostage.  She thinks about her own hardships and feels there is no excuse for his person’s behavior.  When Meg finds out that the intruder is someone from her past, she risks her own life and disobeys orders to save the hostages.  In doing so, she finds herself face to face with the person she least expected to see.  Is it her estranged brother, someone she sent to jail, her ex-husband or someone else?  Moreover, why did he pick Evelyn’s third grade classroom?

The hostage situation in the school continues while the storm keeps Broken Branch cut off.  There is anxiety and frustration throughout the town.  Everyone is trying to take matters in their own hands but one wrong move can have serious consequences. 

One Breath Away is an emotionally charged and bone chilling novel.  What makes it so terrifying is that anyone can find themselves in the predicament that the five main characters find themselves into.  At any given moment, we can be one of them and if tested, who will you be?

·         Will you be the brave, loving and caring Mrs. Oliver? 
·         Or the powerless but yet strong Holly who would do anything for her children? 
·         How about Will who has vowed to get things right a second time around and will do anything to keep a promise?
·         Or 13 year old Augie who is wise beyond her years and would do anything for those she loves?
·         Or maybe, you will be Meg who will put her life on the line and disobey orders to protect the innocent?

Heather Gudenkauf keeps you hanging at the edge of your seat until the very end.  I kept thinking I knew who the gunman was but I was shocked to find out how completely off I was.  I was taken by surprise.  One Breath Away is an intense and well written novel.  You can purchase One Breath Away through many fine retailers, including

Heather Gudenkauf is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novels The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden.  She lives in Iowa with her family.  Visit her website,

I was not paid for this review.  Thank you to Meryl L. Moss Media for sending me a free copy for my review.