Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

On a bitter March day, as a sudden snowstorm envelops the small town of Broken Branch, Iowa, an unknown man with a gun enters the town’s only school and takes a classroom of children hostage. As awareness of the situation spreads, the panicked community is ready to do anything to protect their children, but can only watch and wait.
As a teacher with a long career behind her, Evelyn Oliver is ready to enjoy retirement with her loving husband. But now, faced with a crazy man armed with a gun, terrorizing her classroom, she’d rather die than fail to protect any of her students. But why is he doing this? Evelyn’s been scouring her mind but doesn’t recognize the intruder. Maybe one of the students is the key?

Holly Thwaite left Broken Branch and her family behind without a word eighteen years ago, vowing never to return. But after a debilitating accident leaves her recovering in a hospital in Arizona, she’s forced to send her children to her hometown to be looked after by their grandfather, the man she never wanted them to meet. Will Thwaite never understood why his estranged daughter, Holly, ran away all those years ago. But now that her children are in his care, he refuses to fail his daughter again. One way or another, Will is going to get his grandkids, P.J. and Augie, out of that school safely even if he has to go in and get them himself. What Will doesn’t know is that thirteen-year-old Augie is just as determined to rescue her little brother from the killer and help her classmates, even if it means putting herself in the crosshairs of the gunman.
Police officer Meg Barrett wants to know who the intruder is and why he’s doing this. Whoever it is, there’s no excuse for this. Meg should know. She’s had plenty of hardships herself. But with innocent lives at stake, Meg is prepared to risk her own life to save these hostages, although it means disobeying orders and taking on the gunman face-to-face.
As the standoff progresses and the snowstorm rages outside, anxiety and frustration start to build to dangerous levels. But everyone knows how precarious the situation is. One wrong move, even a breath, could have the most devastating of consequences.

Despite a slow start, this is still an entertaining, quick read.

The plot starts off, like I said, slowly, as we touch base with all the characters and their own storylines. The chapters are short, giving the reading a kind of urgency, which works well with this kind of novel. The story really picks up once you hit the last hundred pages, which is great, but it would have been even better if it’s managed to have that same thrill throughout the preceeding pages.

These kinds of books always interest me, when you have many people living through the same life-shaking event: in this case a gunman taking a school hostage. It’s interesting to see the very different viewpoints of all the characters. Which is what I expected in this book. It didn’t quite work, in my opinion. There are too many arbitrary characters who are given whole chapters all the way throughout. For example, do we really need Holly’s viewpoint? Her storyline doesn’t add anything to the book, since we learn most everything she mentions from other characters as well. I would have liked if the author would have stuck just to two or three characters. Also, it’s puzzling why she writes some characters in first person and others in third. It makes the story feel stilted and awkward.

All in all, not a bad book. I do recommend it to those of you who like an easy, fun read that, although not wholly original, has some fun moments.

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