New Book – One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

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Publishing year: 2012

This book has captured me from the very beginning. The premise is quite frightening. A man enters a school and threatens teachers and pupils with a gun.

We get to see the events unfolding through different eyes. First, we are introduced to Holly, a woman who has been in hospital for eight weeks. As far as I’ve gathered, she has suffered an accident; references to her burned body and burned down house tell me that there was a fire in her house. Her mother is looking after her, and her children are with her grandfather. Even though I feel sorry for Holly, it’s difficult to feel empathy with her. Her story with her parents tells us of a very selfish person. Holly left the farm where she grew up, and since then, she has never come back. I don’t know if there are some facts we don’t know, but Holly feels resent and almost hatred towards her father. Yet, as far as we’ve seen, her father seemed to be a good father, and his only sin was that he had a farm in a small town in Iowa, so his family had to live there. Holly hated the farm and when she was 17, she left with no intention of coming back. She seems to be a free spirit, and when she got married, her behaviour was the same as with her parents. She left her husband because she couldn’t settle to the routine of life. I imagine that now she is forced to be immobilized in a bed in a hospital, it must be torture for her, and not because of her terrible injuries.

Holly has two children: Augie and PJ. Now they are with their grandfather. Augie shows the same attitude as her mother did when she was a teenager. She resents being on the farm, but I think her feelings have been influenced by her mother’s. P.J. is different, and she loves helping his grandfather around the farm. Augie is the witness we have in the school, and she calls her mother in hospital, telling her that there is a man holding P.J and she’s in a closet. And then Holly hears two or three shots. This is the beginning, and then we get to read what happened before that. Augie is in class with Mr. Ellery, and they get some code for alarm. So the teacher locks the classroom and asks the children to sit on the floor.

Will is another voice in the novel. Will is Holly’s father, and he hears about the events in the school and goes there immediately. Not only are his grandchildren there, but also his sister-in-law, one of his sons’ wife. I like Will, and I think Holly treated him very unfairly. Maybe I don’t know all the facts, and maybe there’s a real cause why Holly is so hostile to her father.

The gunman is in Mrs. Oliver’s class, who is P.J’s teacher. The man in the class is threatening them and tells her that if they do what he wants, nobody will be hurt. Mrs. Oliver thinks the man looks familiar, but she can’t place him in her head. She’s worried about P.J’s attitude as the boy stares at the gunman unabashedly. Mrs. Oliver thinks the boy knows who the man is, and I wonder who the man could be, especially as P. J is a newcomer.

There’s another voice, Meg’s. Meg is a policewoman, who moved to the town after her divorce. Things in her divorce are not straightforward. She believes her husband cheated on her, but he swears he didn’t do it. Yet, now they are divorced, and since then, she had a brief affair with a journalist until she found out he was still married and was using her for a scoop in a story for his newspaper. This is the last day before spring break, but Meg’s daughter is not in school as Meg agreed to let her go to her father one day before. When she learns about the man in the school through Stuart, the journalist, she is sceptical at first, and then she realizes it’s serious business.

The story is really fascinating and scary. I can’t imagine how one copes with the treats of a crazy man with a gun or how one can deal with the fear of knowing your child is in mortal danger. Very interesting indeed.

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