Audiobook Review: One Breath Away

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: One Breath AwayOne Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf
Narrator: Buck Schirner, Joyce Bean, Kate Rudd, Laural Merlington, Susan Erickson
Published by Brilliance Audio on June 26, 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller
Pages: 9 hrs, 20 mins
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher

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 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.

For those of you who don’t know, some audiobooks include a bit of music. Not all the way through or anything, but at the very beginning and end. One Breath Away actually has music at the opening and closing of each disc. The music has a creepy sound, and seems like theme music for some sort of crime drama program. This fits One Breath Away perfectly, because it definitely felt more like a made for television movie than a serious consideration of a gunman taking over a school.

The topic, of course, inherently involves a lot of drama, fear and creepiness. The fact that a man with a gun would decide that the best way to make whatever point he has to make is to enter a school and take some children as hostages really freaks me out, mostly because it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the children at all; they are merely innocent victims of a madman. Basically, this subject matter has plenty of natural intensity and shock value without adding additional sob stories into the mix.

Gudenkauf tells this story using multiple third person limited narratives. The first is a mother, Holly, recuperating slowly in a hospital. In the meantime, her children, Augie and PJ have been sent to live with her estranged her father, while her mother sits at her bedside. How was she injured? In a grease fire, and she was injured to an insane degree. Not only that, but the fire was inadvertently caused by Augie, who never apologized before this incident.

The second perspective is Augie’s. Because of the guilt over her accidentally wounding her mother, when the school gets locked down, Augie decides she won’t leave without PJ. Her class escapes early on, but she decides to stay and look for PJ, who’s in the classroom with the gunman. Holly’s perspective existed solely to add an extra level of sadness to this story, which really was not necessary. Why not make her any other mother, waiting outside the school? No matter the family situation, any relatively caring mother will be frozen with fear until she finds out her kids are safe; other than pure melodrama value, there’s no reason to have her be gravely injured, at risk of ruining her skin grafts. Maybe that wasn’t Gudenkauf’s intention, but it detracted from the believability of the book for me.

The third perspective, and the only male one, is Will, Holly’s father. He and Holly have not talked since she left home as a teen, sick of the farm and of Iowa and of her dad who cared more about cows than his child. Will spends his time worrying about everyone, rightly so, but also stumbling into crucial information regarding the case and saving people. Again, this had a sort of cinematic feel to it, more than might necessarily be going down in real life. Oh, also, there was a crazy snow storm too.

Our fourth perspective is Meg, a police officer. Her daughter would have been in the school, but she left before the last day to spend the weekend with her father, from whom Meg is divorced. Both Meg and Holly have a very powerful feminist attitude towards sex, though they seem to look down on themselves for it a bit, which is unfortunate. Their lives parallel somewhat, but more could have been made of that.

Rounding out the story is Mrs. Oliver, the so-close-to-retiring teacher of the hostage class. She does try very hard for the kids, but I had trouble accepting that a no-nonsense teacher like she is described to be would confront the gunman in some of the highly stupid ways she does. The reader also gets a lot of back story on Mrs. Oliver that, I personally did not find useful to the plot or interesting.

The audiobook version should have made their characters come more alive for me, but, sadly, that was not the case. I really did not like any of the narrators voices, though Meg was better than the rest. For one thing, they all had a really annoying accent, which I guess must be an Iowan accent for authenticity, but, whatever it is, I would have been happier without it. The worst performance has to be the one for Augie, as the narrator used a really obnoxious trying-to-sound-like-a-child voice, which skewed too young for eighth grader Augie and made her sound incredibly dumb.

Looking at Goodreads, I can see that there are 3000 plus ratings for this, most of them four and five stars. Listening to an audio can be a very different experience, so, perhaps, had I read this I would have liked it more. I really cannot say. If you’re curious, look at some other reviews or try the book yourself, preferably in print unless you love the Iowa accent, before writing it off.

14 responses to “Audiobook Review: One Breath Away”

  1. Kat Balcombe says:

    Ah nuts. Maybe without the accents and annoying narrators it would be better. But I get your point about the mother – I mean, how much shit luck can one family have? And if it’s not really connected and just a way to get more reader sympathy, then I don’t really see the use of it either!

    I’m now off to listen to a sample because I’ve got no idea what an Iowa accent is!

  2. I prefer to read them. Great review!

  3. Darn, I wonder what reviews were like for the actual book itself, so sad the narration failed for you.

  4. Aw, sorry you didn’t enjoy this one, Christina! I’m pretty sure I have an ARC of this one lying around somewhere, and I’ve heard amazing things about it, but now I’m not so sure. The concept itself made me unsure to begin with (school shootings = ANGSTANGSTANGSTANGST), but it received amazing reviews from friends of mine so I was willing to give it a shot. Now I’m a bit worried. And you know how much it annoys me when an author unloads a ton of horrible happenings on a family (or person, ie: Through to You), so I think I might pass. Sorry the audiobook didn’t work for you, Christina. I don’t listen to audiobooks very often because I have an extremely short attention span and when an important dialogue scene is being told to me I’ll zone off thinking of butterflies, so yeah. Audiobooks and Blythe don’t work well together.

  5. I usually tend to love audiobooks more than I would an actual physical reading experience, so this is very disappointing to hear. But yeah, accents can definitely impact how I feel about an audiobook.

    Also, this sounds like some Jodi Piccoult writing and yeah, PASS.

    • Christina says:

      Huh, that’s interesting. No wonder you listen to so much audio. When I’m finally able to stop reviewing them and pick them out, I will DNF audios SO FAST.

      That comparison strikes me as apt.

  6. Giselle says:

    Yes I think there was music in one of the only 2 audiobooks I listened to! I really liked it! (It was Graceling) But audiobooks can definitely make or break a book, I agree. I hope that reading it is a better experience because I am really looking forward to this one. You should try our This is Not A Drill. It’s super short and really good!

  7. I admire people who can listen to audiobooks. I tried and failed few times. It’s just I can’t concentrate. Anyway I wanted to request this book on NG few times and somehow I never did. I hope reading this book is better than listening.

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