Heather Gudenkauf‘s latest novel of suspense, about a nearly unspeakable subject, grabs the reader from page one. This is Gudenkauf’s third novel, after The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden, both very successful. She has a fun article, “The Rules for Suspense Writing,” up on Publishers Weekly.
Adult/High School–School shooting stories have almost become their own genre. From Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes to Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, the horror and drama inherent in these scenarios is often a difficult read. In One Breath Away, an unknown adult with a gun takes hostage an elementary-school class. Readers become familiar with a handful of characters who narrate alternating chapters: Mrs. Oliver, the no-nonsense teacher; Augie, a sullen 13-year-old whose brother is in Mrs. Oliver’s class; Holly, Augie’s mom, who is struggling to recover from a horrific accident; Will, Augie’s grandfather; and Meg, the police officer who discovers that she has a surprising connection to the gunman. The events unfold in a matter of hours, but the standoff at the school is the catalyst for these people to explore their regrets in relationships with those they love. Because of a focus on character development, the potential for sensationalism in this scenario is minimized. Teens may respond to the inner drama more so than the mystery of the gunman, since much of it deals with parent-child relationships. Augie and Mrs. Oliver are the most affecting characters. Augie’s contrary point of view rings true as she struggles with a deep guilt. Mrs. Oliver provides particularly poignant insight into that tough-as-nails teacher everyone fears and loves in equal measure. The palpable anxiety of those in and outside of the school extends to readers in this character-driven story.–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA