Blurb (from Goodreads):
In her most emotionally charged novel to date, "New York Times" bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered. 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 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.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Source: I was given a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Mira Publishers, and Netgalley.)
This is the story of a man with a gun, the teachers and kids who he threatens with said gun, the police officers who try to control the situation, and the family of the kids held hostage.
13-year old Augie and her 8-year-old brother P.J. aren’t even supposed to be in Broken Branch, Iowa. They should be at home with their mom, but due to an accident that left their mom in the hospital with severe burns, Augie and P.J. are staying with their Grandfather.
Broken Branch is a small community. There are only around 20 children in each year at school, and this means that every child between the ages of 5 and 18 are schooled together.
One man with a gun sends the school into lockdown. Calls from the children result in a mass of terrified parents at the school gates, and the 911 line is jammed. The police arrive to take care of the situation, but what are the rules in this sort of case?
Who is the gunman? An angry father? Someone who is after one of the children? Someone with a score to settle with the local police? How can the police possibly know where to even start, and with the snow falling fast, no-one from tactical support is coming to help them.
One man has turned the day into a nightmare for almost every person in Broken Branch, and depending on how the day ends, things may well get a lot worse.
I really enjoyed this book, right from the beginning I just didn’t want to put it down.
The story is told from several points of view; Augie – 13-year-old girl living with her grandfather, Holly – Augies mother who is hospitalised with severe burns, Will – Augies Grandfather, Mrs Oliver – teacher whose classroom the gun man goes into, and Meg – local police woman.
This allows the reader to see what is going on from different viewpoints, and to understand the connections between the different members of the community. It also shows the different interpretations of the same event, and the conclusions that people draw, as well as the way that life doesn’t stop, even when there’s a crisis happening.
Augie is your typical angst-ridden teenager; sent to live with a grandfather she has never met, worried for her mother, and disappointed by her fathers actions, the one thing she wants is to get her brother out of the school alive, and she’ll do whatever it takes to achieve this, including going back into the building when she knows it’s not safe.
Holly is hospitalised and sedated, she knows nothing about what is happening in her old home town until Augie phones her from the school, but what can she do from her hospital bed? Can she trust the father who she hasn’t spoken to for 17 years to get her kids back to her safely?
Will knows that he has to get his grandkids safely out of that school, even if it means taking matters into his own hands. But what can he really do to help?
Mrs Oliver has been teaching for over 40 years. She doesn’t want to die the one day that she wore a denim sparkly jumper that one of her students made for her. She also refuses to see any of her students harmed, but what can one woman do to protect 20 children from a man with a gun?
Meg has an idea of who the man might be; her estranged brother, someone she arrested, one of the children’s fathers. But time is running out, and her leads are turning into dead ends.
I think the thing that struck me most with this book was people’s reactions to what was going on in the school. Augie wanted to help her brother, but instead of telling the police what she knew about the gunman’s whereabouts, she instead decided to just go back into the school and deal with it herself! I’m sorry, but this is an incredibly stupid and short-sighted thing to do, and I really could just not believe it when she did this.
The most infuriating moment for me came when a 5-year-old made it out of the building though; she admitted to Meg (the police officer) that she recognised the gunman, but when her parents arrived they said that the police could talk to her tomorrow!
‘Tomorrow?!’ (I actually shouted this) ‘How the hell can they say that when it’s 2 in the afternoon, and the entire towns kids are being held at gunpoint?!’
This really annoyed me. They should have been arrested for aiding the psycho, or obstruction of justice, or something. I really just could not believe how crazy and selfish this was!
When I got to the end of this book I have to say that I didn’t guess the identity of the gunman. I was totally in the dark, although once the gunman was revealed I did recognise the hints that had been woven into the story, and things began to make sense. The conclusion of the story was good, although the identity of the gunman (even thought it had been a mystery to me) didn’t excite me, I just sort of thought ‘oh.’ Which was the most disappointing part of the book for me.
Otherwise though this book was well written, and kept it’s mystery all the way through. Definitely a book to grab a copy of this summer. Enjoy!
8 out of 10.