Title: One Breath Away
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Published: Harlequin UK, 2012 (e-book provided via NetGalley)
Amazon Synopsis: “‘He has a gun.’
‘Who? Tell me, where are you? Who has a gun?’
‘I love you, Mum.’
An ordinary school day in March, snowflakes falling, classroom freezing, kids squealing with delight, locker-doors slamming.
Then the shooting started. No-one dared take one breath…
He’s holding a gun to your child’s head. One wrong answer and he says he’ll shoot.
This morning you waved goodbye to your child. What would you have said if you’d known it might be the last time?”
Cover art: The cover is very serene in colour and content, but the tagline ‘one school, one gunman, your child' is a contrast to that. It suggested the book would be a tragedy and it actually isn't.
Premise: I was a little wary of reading this book because I couldn’t help but think of the recent Newtown shootings, but I wanted to see how the author addressed this situation.
Characters: The story is told from the point of view of five characters - Holly, her daughter Augie who is at the school, Augie’s grandfather Will, a police officer Meg, and third-grade teacher Mrs Oliver, whose class is held hostage by the gunman. All five characters are developed through their back stories, and all of them are so believable. Augie and Mrs Oliver are obvious favourites as they are the bravest, being immediately affected by the situation. I also felt a lot for Augie’s brother P.J., who was a strong character even though it wasn’t told from his point of view.
Plot: The story is a bit of a mystery, keeping you trying to guess the identity of the gunman and his motivation. Several suspects are identified but each of them is proved not to be guilty - and when the gunman is revealed, I honestly had not expected it to be who it was, though the ambiguous clues might have suggested it.The short chapters make it easy for you to just keep reading, although Holly’s chapters often slowed down the urgency and, if I’m honest, sometimes felt irrelevant. It was interesting to read the ways different people responded to the situation, both inside and outside the school. The small-town feel and the weather conditions added a lot to the atmosphere of the story. Throughout it all there is an exploration of family relationships and how far love and bitterness can make people go, and the way an incident like this can change everything. I think the story ends on a positive note, as one of my favourite moments was when Augie says that she really hopes her mother can forgive her grandfather.
Other comments: Gudenkauf has managed to write an intriguing and insightful story with strong characterization, which I would recommend to both teens and adults.