Monday, June 18, 2012

One Breath Away ~ Heather Gudenkauf (eARC) review

One Breath Away
Harlequin MIRA
June 26, 2012
400 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

It's a startlingly, suddenly cold spring day, the last day before Spring Break in Broke Branch, Iowa when the gunman walks into the school. The ancient, housing grades K through 12 is where nearly all of the two spent their school years but now it's facing an unknown threat.

In all but the one classroom - taken hostage, students just know that they're under a lockdown - and that it doesn't seem to be  a drill, that something actually seems to be happening. Outside, the police have received a call from an unknown man who claims to be in the school. Tens, if not hundreds, of students' 911 calls seem to only be jumbling the message of what's happening (and jamming the phone lines).

With a freak snowstorm slowing down the arrival of outside help, it's u to the tiny town's police department to decide how to handle the situation.

And get everyone out safely.

Much like Heather Gudenkauf's first two novels, One Breath Away uses several narrators - in this case five - to tell the story: Augie, a thirteen-year-old girl new to the town; Meg Barrett, one of the town's police officers whose daughter would ordinarily be in the school; Will Thwaite, farmer and Augie's grandfather; Holly, Will's daughter and Augie's mother who left Broken Branch after high school and promised never to be back; and Mrs. Oliver, the school's third grade teacher.

Augie, Holly and Meg's narrations are told in the first person while Will and Mrs Oliver's are in the third person. As with The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden the narration by the different characters allows us to learn a great deal about each of them and their back story as we progress through the current goings on and readers are able to progressively care more about each of the characters and get invested in the plot at the same time.

About the narrators/characters:
While Holly's sections seemed shorter - and that made sense given her location and condition - I was very glad that she was a part of the story. Her relationship with both Will, her father and Augie, her daughter, (and, through their telling, her song P.J. and her mother) really rounded things out and made that family relationship seem whole and was the strongest 'unit' in the book.

Augie and P.J. have had to leave their life (and mother) behind in Arizona after an accident left her badly burned and still in the hospital. They've only been in Broken Branch a few months on the day the gunman comes in. Knowing their past, though, gives you more of a connection with Augie and makes her much more relatable as she worries so desperately about her brother.

Knowing the past also makes it easier to understand some of Will's desperation to see them safe, to have his chance.

Seeing Mrs Oliver as more than a teacher was fantastic. I loved her story. not only did it make her into a great character, it made her not 'just another character' that you kind of worried about.

Meg, a police officer who moved to Broken Branch with her young daughter following her divorce, was a good character and I appreciated her story, but I found her to be the weakest of all of the narrators. Possibly because she had the least interaction outside the here and now - or possibly I just didn't connect with her. She was by no means a bad character, I just liked the others much more.

The plot:
In One Breath Away there's not violence and terror every page, despite there being a gunman in a school, but there is tension and fear. Gudenkauf knows how to use the switching perspectives to her advantage, changing from one character to another just as something is revealed (or about to be). It's not a book to be afraid to read - it's a book to be afraid to put down. This book keeps the tension high, the present story is broken up with past recollections that, instead of breaking the tension, actually raise it by stealing you away from it and leaving you wondering what's happening.

While set in a small, small town One Breath Away doesn't have characters' relationships that are as interwoven as her previous novels (at least based on my memory), but that's not a fault here. She's quickly becoming a writer I know will have a great plot - this time with incredible tension - but also fill the story with fantastic character relationships so that you also care about the characters.

Rating: 8/10

Thank you to Harlequin and NetGalley for my egalley of this title

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