First Descent

( 1 )


Montana-born Rex loves nothing more than to take his kayak out on a river, the faster and more powerful the better. When he gets the opportunity to tackle the well-named El Furioso in southwest Colombia, he is thrilled. He anticipates the river’s challenges, but finds himself in a situation where the real danger is human.

In Colombia, he meets Myriam Calambás, an indígena, who has lived along the El Furioso all her life. Though she loves its rushing waters, she dreams of leaving...

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First Descent

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Montana-born Rex loves nothing more than to take his kayak out on a river, the faster and more powerful the better. When he gets the opportunity to tackle the well-named El Furioso in southwest Colombia, he is thrilled. He anticipates the river’s challenges, but finds himself in a situation where the real danger is human.

In Colombia, he meets Myriam Calambás, an indígena, who has lived along the El Furioso all her life. Though she loves its rushing waters, she dreams of leaving to get an education so that she can help her people. Her dreams, and her very survival, are in the balance when she and Rex are caught up in the clash between paramilitaries, working for rich landowners, and guerillas, who are supposed to be protecting the poor.

Pam Withers’ skill at writing about extreme adventures combines with a compelling story about an endangered world and a people struggling for their very right to exist.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…Pam Withers' new book First Descent is a book that just can't be put down. From the first page to the last, Withers keeps her readers on the edge of their seats. Moving from a tale of frustration and arrogance to one of survival, heroism, and humility, the story of Rex's adventure to Colombia to navigate the aptly named El Furioso river will keep audiences flipping pages until the last sentence. Withers is a talented author with a knack for exciting and gripping action as well as for sympathetic and moving characters. The plot is well-paced, and her prose elicits beautiful images of the Colombian landscape…. Highly recommended.”
CM Magazine
Children's Literature - Veronica Bartles
Rex Scruggs feels more at home out on the river with his kayak than anywhere else. He's grown up in the shadow of his famous grandfather, Malcolm Scruggs, who was well-known for being the first to conquer several South American rivers. Rex dreams of making a name for himself and carrying on his grandfather's legacy by being the first to paddle down El Furioso, the one river Malcolm never completed. The river proves itself to be a formidable opponent, but the class V rapids aren't the greatest danger Rex will face. As he grows close to Myriam Calambas, the native girl who agreed to be his guide on the river and who dreams of becoming a reporter so that she can tell the world about her families' struggles, Rex gets caught up in the political struggle that she and the other indigenas face every day. Struggling to maintain their independence and neutrality in the middle of a struggle between the paramilitaries and the guerillas who want to claim the land for their own use, Myriam's people face daily threats to their lives, and Rex is soon caught in the middle of a war he didn't ask to fight. Withers tells spine-tingling, adrenaline-pumping, action-packed story of finding your place in the world, even against impossible odds. Reviewer: Veronica Bartles
VOYA - Sherry Rampey
Rex is a seasoned kayaker, as is evidenced by his many competitions and awards. Still, he longs to do a first descent on the El Furioso so he can finally show his grandfather how determined and capable he is in kayaking—and at life. It seems that fate has a way of smiling on Rex, as his grandfather reluctantly agrees to send Rex to South America to make his dreams come true. Miriam Calabras wants to be a reporter, but this type of profession is forbidden in her village. She wants the world to know the truth about what is happening to her people deep in the Colombian jungle. As fate would have it, Rex shows up just in time, and he needs a tour guide. Withers does a fantastic job of intertwining the lives of these two very culturally different teens as they fight through the paramilitaries and guerrillas that walk the jungle hoping to persuade, buy, or kill those who resist them. It is only when Miriam's grandmother catches them in the act of kissing that family secrets are revealed. The tumultuous setting and the plot are like the El Furioso, full of twists and turns, and will keep the reader wondering what will happen next. This is a great read for those seeking adventure. Reviewer: Sherry Rampey
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Rex, 17, has grown up kayaking the wild rivers of Montana in an attempt to escape the shadow of his famous grandfather. Myriam, a Colombian teenager, has grown up dodging land mines and bullets while trying to convince her parents to allow her to pursue her schooling. When Rex decides to attempt a first descent down a notoriously deadly South American river, their worlds collide in ways neither dreamed possible. In a country where humans prove more dangerous than animals, the teens' partnership quickly devolves into a struggle for survival. Though the precarious situations they each encounter in the first few chapters seem to exist solely to catch readers' attention, the overall story is interesting and the characters are likable. Reluctant readers will especially enjoy the adventure aspect, though they may find some of the vocabulary challenging.—Kelly McGorray, Glenbard South High School, Glen Ellyn, IL
Kirkus Reviews

When a 17-year-old tackles the first-ever descent of a tumultuous Colombian river, he encounters both raging rapids and raging war.

Rex is the grandson of a world-class kayaker who inexplicably turned his back on El Furioso 60 years before. Armed with his grandfather's journal—but very little advice from the taciturn man—and plenty of kayaking ability but astonishingly little world experience, Rex travels to Colombia, where he meets Myriam, also 17. The tale shifts between his first-person narration and alternating chapters told from her third-person point of view. She's an indígena, one of a small group of locals caught in the brutal, cocaine-fueled war among guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and the ineffectual Colombian army. In spite of numerous warnings and the desertion of his team, Rex takes on El Furioso solo, with dire consequences. Kayaking action and encounters with the various military groups are vivid and thrilling. Less effective are some of the transitions between the two narratives, when showing periodically deteriorates to telling. Readers must suspend belief that Rex would travel alone to war-torn Colombia to take on a wild river with just a pair of ill-prepared teammates—without someone recognizing the foolhardy nature of the venture.

Those willing to accept the premise of this effort are in for an exhilarating if somewhat shallow ride. (Adventure. 12 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781770494121
  • Publisher: Tundra
  • Publication date: 2/11/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Pam Withers is the author of fifteen bestselling outdoor-adventure novels for teens, several nominated for awards. A former whitewater kayak instructor and raft guide, she spent twenty years as a journalist and editor. She speaks extensively across North America and is co-founder of She has one son and lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband, a university professor.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    A riveting and action packed book for all ages! Let me begin b

    A riveting and action packed book for all ages! Let me begin by saying I am a novice when it comes to kayaking, but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book. The author does a fine job with drawing the reader in and you feel as though you are riding the white waters along with Rex. Another excellent detail of the book is drawing a vivid image of what life is like in a country where you never feel safe, something many of us take for granted.

    Rex is tired of living in his grandfather's shadow and feeling like he always has to prove himself to his elder. His grandfather is a world renown kayaker but he has one section of a river in Columbia which he gave up and did not achieve his first descent. This is the river that Rex intends to tame and claim the first descent for himself. After traveling to Columbia, Rex finds an indigena girl to be his guide along the most difficult part of the river. Rex and his fellow kayakers are accepted into Miriam's village and learn what life is like for them, but Rex refuses to acknowledge the dangers looming all around him. But he can't ignore them when he himself becomes the target and must find a way to escape from something much more dangerous than the river he came to run.

    I recommend this book for readers of all ages and genre types. I would have read this book in one sitting if I could have found a way. The book grabs your attention early and hangs on with a death grasp! Excellent book! I look forward to reading more by this author!

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