Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#30: One Breath Away (Heather Gudenkauf)

on December 12, 2012

I had forgotten how good it feels to be consumed by a good book and let the rest of the world (and responsibilities) lie dormant for a while. The book that reminded me was One Breath Away. The story centers around a school in the midwest that is in lockdown because an unidentified gunman has entered the 3rd grade classroom of Mrs. Evelyn Oliver. Although the entire community is effected by the events, the narrative focuses on 5 central characters.

At the center of the novel is Augie, a tough teenage girl who finds herself living with her grandparents and younger brother while her mother, Holly, is recovering in an Arizona hospital from 3rd degree burns. Will is Augie’s grandfather who has been estranged from his daughter ever since she left the family farm and never looked back. Will’s crisis is heightened as he realizes that Augie and PJ (the younger brother) are both in danger due to his own decisions — similar to decisions that chased their mother away from him years earlier. Add to the mix the charming Mrs. Oliver and Meg, a local police officer whose daughter is a student in Mrs. Oliver’s 3rd grade class and you have a wonderful formula for a riveting read.

Character development was at the heart of Gudenkauf’s writing. Each chapter shifts point of view between the 5 characters and provides insight into their back story as well as their emotional state. Generally, I really enjoy reading works written in this manner. I found Gudenkauf’s novel a bit jerky in the early stages due to the extremely short chapters. Just as I was settling in with a character, my attention was diverted to a different (and often unrelated) scene.  As the book continued, the story lines began to converge and pulled me in despite its rough start.

As the novel begins to wind down, the plot became sadly predictable and the ending left several threads unresolved — especially those related to the relationships between Will, Augie, and Holly. At its heart, the story’s strength was really about a family in crisis; the novel’s unsatisfactory conclusion is attributed to the author’s choice to make it merely a story about a school hostage crisis.

Even though I wasn’t pleased with the ending, I’d still give this book 3 out of 5 stars.


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