Numerous blurbs on the back of Heather Gudenkauf’s latest, One Breath Away, describe Gudenkauf as the next Jodi Picoult. Picoult has taken the idea of multiple narrators and practically created an entirely new writing style. The payoff is immensely satisfying when it’s done correctly, as it creates a truly completed puzzle. While not as successful as her debut novel, The Weight of Silence, Gudenkauf has written a worthwhile and powerful read in One Breath Away.
Gudenkauf takes every parent’s worst nightmare, an intruder in his/her child’s school, and creates a riveting narrative (so, ironically, did Picoult in Nineteen Minutes). Each narrator adds a slice of the pie to the horrible hours when the incident took place. Augie, sent to live with her grandfather after her mother’s accident; Will, Augie’s grandfather; Holly, Augie’s mother; Meg, a police officer at the school whose daughter is thankfully not there that day; and Mrs. Oliver, the third-grade teacher whose classroom the intruder is holed up in.
Gudenkauf wisely writes short chapters, which causes the “just one more” syndrome. At times, I couldn’t put it down and kept reading long into the night. Gudenkauf builds suspense with making the reader guess the intruder’s identity and hoping against hope that everyone will get out safely. However, the identity is easily guessed, so the reader shouldn’t expect any big surprises there. That part needed much more drama and felt a little too amateurish. The lead-up to the big reveal and the afterword was wonderfully written. The actual reveal…not so much. However, don’t let that stop you from picking up One Breath Away. The heroics of the key players and general suspense keep you wanting more.