Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.
This week’s featured book is One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauff:
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Harlequin MIRA; Original edition (June 26, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 077831365
- Source: Publisher
The quiet serenity of the small town of Broken Branch is shattered when an armed man walks into the town’s only school. Officer Meg Barrett is one of the first officers to the scene. Her own two children would have been in that school had she not given them permission to spend time with their father. She joins the rest of the town as they wait outside the school, desperate to learn more about the identity of the shooter. Joining her is Will Thwaite, guardian for his two grandchildren, Augie & PJ, while his daughter recovers from massive burns after a fire.
One Breath Away is told from multiple viewpoints: a mother, miles away from her children, recovering from burns; Meg, another mother whose children are safe, yet the lives of the town’s children are in her hands; Will, a grandfather who has never met his grandchildren, now responsible for their well-being, this travesty reinforcing how important they are to him; Augie, a young girl struggling with her own feelings of guilt; and Mrs. Oliver, the teacher of the classroom the gunman has taken hostage. These alternating points of view added to the intensity of the drama unfolding. Each chapter was short, only a few pages long, contributing to the intensity. The reader is the only participant in the story able to see all viewpoints, seeing the chaos unfold from the victims’ very own eyes. This rare glimpse permitted the reader a unique opportunity to bond with the characters, to be concerned about their safety and well being.
Honestly, when I learned that a school shooting was the subject of this novel I have to admit I was a bit concerned. I felt that topic has been done so many times that it isn’t possible to pull it off again in a unique manner. Given that I am a fan of Gudenkauf’s writing (The Weight of Silence & These Things Hidden), I decided to give it a chance. I’m thankful I did, because Gudenkauf once again succeeds at capturing the intricate details of small town life: the relationships, the people, the secrets. As the characters tried to uncover the identity of the shooter they are forced to examine and reveal their own personal secrets and issues. Despite these secrets that have the potential for tearing them apart, they come together for the sake of the children and students trapped inside the school.
One Breath Away is a truly gripping thriller that goes beyond the tragedy of a school shooting to reveal a sense of hope, of healing and recovery. Highly recommended.
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