“He has a gun.”“Who? Tell me, who has a gun?”
“I love you mum”
This book cannot be accused of taking things slow, One Breath Away immediately throws the reader into the heart of the action. On page one we are confronted with a bed-bound mother, receiving the phone call all parents dread, her thirteen year old daughter on the phone telling her that there is a gunman in her classroom. From this running start, Heather Gudenkauf does not let up; the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride though this nightmare scenario, the short chapters helping create pace. This was literally a book I could not put down, starting reading it at 8am and finishing it before 12.
In the style of Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, the story is told by several different characters: Holly – the mother, Augie – the daughter, Mrs Oliver – the teacher, Meg – the police officer and Will – Holly’s father. This gives a wonderful emotional varity to the book, as you look on the situation from a number of perspectives. I was originally concerned that with so many characters telling the story it would be hard to follow or I would find it difficult to get to know all the characters (like Julia in My Sister’s Keeper) but this was not the case. Not once did I have to check which character was speaking and the back story was so wonderfully woven into the narrative of each character that you easily got to know the characters. Apart from the first chapter, Gudenkauf avoids using a non-linear timeline – which also helps to allow the reader to get to know the characters and follow the story.
The characters are believable throughout, helped by how the author acknowledges their faults and weaknesses. I especially connected with Mrs Oliver, the grade-school teacher, and was moved to tears by the love she had for her students, and her love for her husband, whom she imagines speaking to her for much of the novel. Also impressive was the way the plot deviated from the typical school-shooter plot – there was no depressed and angry teenager, instead the identity of the shooter came as a complete surprise. It was also refreshing to see a small rural town not being portrayed as being full of hicks, with an inept police department. No predictability here.
Overall, an engrossing, well conceived story told in a beautiful and compassionate way, with great characterisation. Having never having read Heather Gudenkauf before, she is now a must-read author for me and I look forward to checking out her previous work. Highly recommended for fans of authors such as Jodi Picoult or for those who prefer more ‘cosy’, but emotional thrillers.
One Breath Away can be purchased as a hardback from Amazon UK, and is available on Kindle for £6.29.
[A review copy was provided by Mira]