Review #29: One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

One Breath Away utilizes one of the most simple plot points around. An armed gunman takes a school hostage, and the entire small town of Broken Branch gathers to wait for the outcome. The story is told from the point of view of several characters: Augie is 12 years old living with her grandparents while her mother recovers from devastating burns; Will, Augie’s grandfather; Holly, Augie’s mother; Meg, a local police officer whose daughter also attends the school; and Evelyn Oliver, the third-grade teacher whose classroom the gunman has holed up in.

The use of this storytelling device works well in some instances, and not so well in others. There are flashbacks of each character that are excellent in building and developing their characters and really making you root for them. However, at times the cutting between characters seems too quick with no real advancement of the plot or character in the cuts. I could have done without Holly’s “voice” entirely, and perhaps also Will’s. I think the overall narrative would have been stronger if the focus was on Augie, Meg, and Mrs. Oliver.

Another problem I had, is that I couldn’t quite tell the aim of the story. Was it a “coming-of-age” or a crime mystery or a simple drama focused on a town’s reaction to something horrific (if it was the latter, then we definitely did not hear enough from the various townspeople). At the end I was left a bit unsatisfied since I really was expecting something deeper to come out of the whole thing, especially after the well-fleshed out flashbacks. Certainly the book was engaging throughout, and I would probably read something else by this author, but I do wish it had a bit payoff.

OH! I also got this book through a site, netgalley, that allows you to read unreleased books and review them! They send the books in pdf/galley format for reading on an e-reader. It’s pretty great, and I have gotten 6 books from them so far!