50 in 2012: Book Thirty One

One Breath AwayOne Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unseasonable spring snow storm has thirteen-year-old Augie Baker desperately longing for her mother, for her home, for the life she had moments before a tragic fire accident took away all semblance of normalcy in her life. Now living with grandparents she has only just met for the first time in a small Iowa farm town, she is bitter and freezing in a classroom without heat while her mother recovers in a hospital bed in Arizona.

Fiercely protective of her half-brother PJ, she is in Iowa because her birth father refused to care for them both. As she thinks of ways to get back home, all thoughts are shattered the moment the school secretary announces a code red lockdown. Her teacher, Mr. Ellery immediately gets all his students to huddle safely in the corner while he tries to assess the situation and figure out what is going on…

What no one in that classroom knows is that an armed gunman has taken over the school. And nobody can figure out who he is and why he is here.

The eight year old students in Mrs. Oliver’s third grade classroom know exactly what is going on. The gunman has taken them hostage and refuses to leave until his business is taken care of. Mrs. Oliver struggles to jar her memory, fearing him to be a disgruntled ex-student.

Told in alternating points of view, the reader is witness to an event strife with tragedy, sadness, and extreme heroism. I found it incredibly poignant that you see the difference between strength of spirit and absolute dejection: how one deals with set backs versus one who has seemingly lost everything and feels no sense of currency for his or her own life or those of others.

A story that hit close to home in many ways. As I prepare to send my oldest off to school for the first time, I was touched by the courage and fierce protection exhibited by the teachers. One can never know what he or she will do in such a situation and the characters in this novel were nothing short of heroic. The gunman driven to a point of no return, choosing to put unknown children at risk to prove a point…at what cost? Why?

I devoured this book. I had to know why. I had to know who. I pray that my sons are surrounded by Mrs. Oliver’s and Mr. Ellery’s in their schooling career…


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