Friday 12 September 2014

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

"‘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?

This novel follows five people; Augie, Will, Mrs. Oliver, Meg and Holly.  They are all linked by the chilling events through their eyes, each giving a different perspective, and we find out a little about each of their backgrounds too, which allows us to learn about them, and relate this to how they are behaving now, on this day in the small town of  Broken Branch, Iowa, when a gunman enters an elementary school. Five narrators who are all linked by the events tell us about the day. As the snow falls, the rest of the town can only sit and wait.

Police officer Meg Barrett, farmer Will Thwaite, his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Augie Baker, and Evelyn Oliver, the teacher trapped in her classroom with her pupils and the gunman, recount what is happening around them, and then the final narrator is Holly, who is mother to Augie and her younger brother P. J., and who is in hospital across the country recovering from the effects of a terrible accidental fire.

This is an emotional, captivating story of everyday lives and relationships interrupted by one terrifying moment. The tension builds as the story progresses. The author conveys the worries of those waiting to hear any news from the school. I found myself thinking about who the gunman could be, and what his motivation was. There is suspicion and speculation as to his identity by those closely involved. Through what we slowly learn about these characters' pasts, the author introduces several possible candidates who could be the gunman. Anxious parents and friends wait, desperate for news, but little is forthcoming. For policewoman Meg, this is frustrating: 'I feel at loose ends; the little information I have is fragmented and disjointed, doesn't make sense.' The reader is kept on edge for most of the novel as to how the events will conclude.

The novel is fast-paced, the narrative voice shifts regularly between the five characters, and the sections are all fairly short, until at one point we have as little as a paragraph or two from one character, then we skip straight to another. This occurs as the story is at its most uncertain moment, and adds to the tension for the reader.

The main characters are all convincing and well-drawn, each with their own individual concerns already playing on their minds, these anxieties then being compounded by the shocking events of this day. It's fascinating to see how each character reacts in this awful situation.

This is the first book that I've read by this author and will definitely be picking up more of her work, she has also written Little Mercies, Little Lies, These Things Hidden & The Weight of Silence. I kept wondering what would happen next and I was thinking about the story even when I'd put the book down. I knew that I was going on holiday for a week in September so I decided to keep this to read until then and I wasn't disappointed, I had it read in 2 days & couldn't put it down. This is an amazingly gripping read and if you're a fan of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain then you will love this book and I'd definitely recommend this to anyone.

This book is available on Kindle & in all good bookstores.

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