Heather Gudenkkauf’s “One Breath Away” is a compelling read with quite a few caveats. It was a book that kept me reading, but something about the entire story seemed overwrought to me. It may have been the fact that the narrative didn’t have quite as much of the urgency as it should’ve had for its thematic. The story juggles many perspectives and revolves around a gunman who holds an entire school on lockdown. I wasn’t bothered by the multi-perspective juggling, nor did I have trouble following the narrative. I think if I had to choose a perspective that intrigued me the most going through – it was Meg. I think she had the most compelling and consistent account of all the characters. Her investigation into whom the culprit was kept me following the story for what it was worth, and I’ll admit I had a few guesses as to whom the gunman was, but it was resolved rather well considering the overarching progression of events.
The other characters are Holly, the mother who wanted to keep her children away from Olive Springs while fleeing her restrictive childhood; Will, the protective father of Holly who fears what will happen as the school’s locked with his grandkids inside; Mrs. Oliver, the teacher on the brink of retirement staring down the gunman, and Augie, the 13-year old who wants nothing more than to protect A.J., her younger brother. There’s a ton of complicated relationships beyond those descriptors, though.
The narratives sort of reminded me of my first time watching the movies “Crash,” “Babel”, and “Vantage Point” – where you have multiple players in the same scenario, and ultimately there are points where the characters cross paths or are shown in their varied reactions to similar events. I think “One Breath Away” aimed to be complex, but by giving a bunch of character histories and backstories that weren’t always necessary, it slowed down the narrative far more than it should’ve. I’ll also admit I really wasn’t enamored with the cast of characters on a majority note because I thought some of their flaws and rationales were overmuch, and considering the narrative keeps jumping back and forth to develop their complicated relations and lives versus focusing primarily on the unfolding events, it gets a bit difficult to wade through in some points.
Nonetheless, for what it was worth, I think my rating sits right on 2.5 stars. I think it could’ve been a far more compelling narrative if it’d centered its focus and dynamic more, and had more emotional punch and resonance instead of the rather passive tonality it had throughout.
For what it’s worth, I would recommend people skipping the audiobook and reading the narrative. I did read both, but the only narrator whose voice sounded convincing for me was Kate Rudd, who did the narrative for Meg, IIRC.
Overall score: 2.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Harlequin MIRA.