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, 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 passing each 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.


  • As Edgar-finalist Gudenkauf’s chilling third suspense novel opens, elementary school children and their teachers in Broken Branch, Iowa, are anxiously awaiting the dismissal that will herald the beginning of their spring vacation. Suddenly, the voice of the school secretary comes over the intercom: “Teachers, this is a Code Red Lockdown. Go to your safe place.” A gunman has entered the school. The police rush to the scene, followed by anxious parents, while teachers deal with distraught children. Veteran teacher Evelyn Oliver must contend with the gunman himself, who holds her third graders hostage, doing all she can to protect her students. Eighth-grader Augie Thwaite bravely does her bit in an effort to rescue her little brother, P.J., a captive in Mrs. Oliver’s classroom. Gudenkauf (These Hidden Things) uses multiple viewpoints to keep the tension high and the reader glued to the pages.

    –Publishers Weekly

  • “Terrifyingly real, deeply moving, and a chilling reminder of how one life can ripple into another, changing everything we think we know in a heartbeat. Gudenkauf builds the suspense with a dazzling hand, and gives us characters so achingly alive, it’s a shock to finish the book and not find them there.”

    –Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

  • “A few sentences into Heather Gudenkauf’s thrilling One Breath Away I realized how unintentionally apt the title is – by page three the story literally took my breath away. Gudenkauf’s writing is urgent and beautiful. Spare here, descriptive there, her words catapult the reader into a harrowing ordeal that could have been ripped from the headlines, which of course makes the characters and Gudenkauf’s expert treatment of them, so incredibly real. One Breath Away takes the reader on an electrifying ride that is, by the end, both terrifying and satisfying. I dare you to forget it.”

    –Elizabeth Flock, New York Times bestselling author of Me & Emma and But Inside I’m Screaming

  • “From page one, Ms. Gudenkauf will have you holding your breath. The authenticity with which she captures the multiple viewpoints of her characters during a emotionally devastating event is truly impressive. I have burns on my fingers from turning the pages too fast. Don’t miss it. This is her best yet!”

    –Lesley Kagen, New York Times Bestselling Author of Good Graces