By:  Heather Gudenkauf

Published: June 26, 2012


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.

I have heard lots of excellent things about Heather Gudenkauf.  This is her 3rd novel, with her first two best-selling novels being THESE THINGS HIDDEN and THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE.  Gudenkauf lives in Iowa and this book is set in a fictitious small town in Iowa.  Throughout the story, she also refers to real places in Iowa that I know well.  The school and community she writes about could easily be the small town I live in, which made the story easy for me to relate to.  As a mom and someone who works in a school, I easily became emotional throughout the story.  Gudenkauf grabbed my attention right away and kept me interested all the way to the end.
Each chapter focuses on one character which I love because the chapters are very short and gives us the story from each of their point of view.  It makes you want to keep reading and keeps it easy to read “one more chapter”.  Soon you have read 15 more chapters.  The story moves along quickly and I could have easily read this in one sitting if I had only had the time.
With the chapters focusing on each character’s perspective, you are able to get a better feel for their personalities.  The author found ways to describe the background and history of each character by weaving it into the story rather than reading pages of information to understand where the character comes from.  I was easily able to picture Will, Augie, Mrs. Oliver and Meg which made the story even more personal.
Throughout the story, you are thinking the gunman is one person, and then you are swayed to think it is another, until very close to the end, the real gunman is revealed and your jaw drops and you think, “I never saw that coming!”.  Those are the kind of stories that make me want to talk about them with someone else!  This would be a great book club choice as there are lots of dynamics to discuss including family relationships, divorce, small towns, and schools.
Heather Gudenkauf wrote this story after a shooting happened on the University of Iowa campus while she was a senior.  Even though she wasn’t in the classroom, this event has left an impression on her life and has changed how she sees the world.  She wrote  ONE BREATH AWAY to explore the issue of school shootings and how they can draw or tear apart a community.  I love finding new authors and she is one I will definitely be adding to my list. 
If you would like to learn more about Heather Gudenkauf, visit her website
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