Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Where I got it: From NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review
In her most emotionally charged novel to date, "New York Times" bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered. In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.
Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town's children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.
As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.
My first experience with Heather Gudenkauf was phenomenal – I read These Things Hidden and loved every page to the point that I couldn’t put it down. I’ve picked up her other books on that recommendation alone, however One Breath Away is the first one I’ve gotten the chance to read. While it wasn’t the engrossing, obsessing novel that These Things Hidden was, it was still incredibly well done and I love that the plot twists always surprise me with this author.
One Breath Away is about a small town in the grips of a hostage situation at the local school. Gudenkauf rapidly and frequently switches perspectives to all of the major characters, subtly sharing their relationships and hidden networks with the reader as the story progresses. I found that while the first few chapters were a little difficult to keep everyone straight, I did eventually get the hang of it, and by that point I was sucked into the mystery and drama of a hostage situation.
At every turn, Gudenkauf takes what you think you know about what will happen next and turns it on its head, which is always nice for a reader who can usually predict the ending if she tries. I found this novel surprising, suspenseful, and heartwarming by turns, and I’d highly recommend it to fans of mystery or contemporary works.