First Descent

First Descent

by Pam Withers


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Montana-born Rex dreams of following in his grandfather's footsteps and making a first descent down one of the world's last unconquered wild rivers. When he finally gets enough sponsors, Rex heads to South America to tackle the well-named El Furioso. And while he anticipates the river's challenges, he finds himself in a situation where the real danger is human.

In Colombia, he hires a guide: seventeen year-old Myriam Calambás, an indígena who has lived along El Furioso all her life. Though she loves its rushing waters, Myriam longs to go to university, become a reporter, and tell the world what is happening to her people. Her dreams, and her very survival, are in the balance when she and Rex become caught up in the clash between the paramilitaries, who work for the rich landowners, and the guerillas, who are supposed to protect the poor.

Pam Withers' skill at writing about extreme sports is reflected in this compelling novel about an endangered world and a people struggling for their very right to exist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770492578
Publisher: Tundra
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

PAM WITHERS is the critically acclaimed author of fifteen best-selling outdoor-adventure books for teens. Born in Wisconsin and fascinated by the world of extreme sports, she is a former slalom kayak racer, kayak instructor, whitewater raft guide, journalist, editor, and associate publisher. A popular public speaker across North America, Pam Withers is also co-founder of Pam Withers lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband. The author lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

What People are Saying About This

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

"...From the first page, when Rex hears a crack of river ice, sees an eight-year-old in peril, and enacts a dramatic rescue in which he must out-paddle an advancing mountain of ice, Withers flings the reader from one perilous adventure to another...."
Booklist "
Kayaking action and encounters with the various military groups are vivid and thrilling."
Kirkus Reviews
"...a fast-paced novel.... Mature teens will find this a compelling story of clashing cultures and social challenge."
The Midwest Book Review

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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First Descent 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
terriko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it's no surprise that a book about fast-paced whitewater kayaking would be a real page turner. However, it may be a surprise to some that in the end, this story isn't as much about the original hero, Rex, as it is about Myriam, the girl who he hires to be his native guide to the river he seeks to conquer. In many ways, she makes a better heroine than Rex makes a hero! When the river turns out to be an entirely different kind of adventure for Rex, he must learn to adapt and work with Myriam and the others he's met since leaving Canada. A fast-paced read that explores privilege, cultural differences, and the sharing of stories as much as it explores the wilds of Colombia and the unconquered river that Rex's grandfather never quite tamed.
JRlibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After I finished reading First Descent, I anxiously awaited the release because I wanted a couple copies for my school library. The book offers a little bit of everything. It would be engaging just on an adventure level, since the kayaking descriptions are exciting. The author kayaks so the descriptions are authentic. The two main characters are another reason I really enjoyed the book. Rex, a Canadian boy who wants to prove himself to his cranky grandfather, by attempting to kayak the river that "beat" the grandfather, and his river guide, Myriam, are both strong characters.Lastly, it's a great read for making readers more aware of the situation in Columbia and the realities of a civil war. Rex quickly discovers that he had no idea of the danger posed by the Guerillas who happen to be right in the area where he needs to kayak.
brigitte64 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was really fun to read, I couldn¿t stop until the end. I am no fan of kayaking but I this exciting adventure made me understand how much fun it can be. And how important is in life to not always reach your own goals. The unstable political situation and the traveling with the natives in Columbia brought the run for the first descent in a very different perspective.A really good book for not only for teenagers.
cammykitty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I work in a U.S. middle school that has a population that is 25% Latino and growing. When I finished First Descent, I knew that it had to be added to our school library. Books that show strong Latino and Latina characters are hard enough to find, but ones where the Caucasian and Indigenous/Latina culture come together are even rarer. First, this book is a strong adventure story about a Canadian boy, Rex, who needs to prove something to his Grandfather. He does this by going to Columbia to kayak the river that had beaten "Gramps" 60 years before. He needs the help of the Indigenas that had had the (dis)pleasure of helping Gramps previously.Second, this is a novel of witness. Once Rex gets to Columbia, he finds the tourist board had downplayed the activities of Guerrila and paramilitary forces in the region he plans to kayak. Real news of the situation is hard to find. Reporters who attempt to cover the civil war frequently die doing so. The Indegenas who are helping him are right in the middle of the clash, being tortured, starved and killed by all three militaries involved. As Rex continues on his journey, he finds that proving something to Gramps isn't reason enough to get him over the falls and through the underground passage of the river. However, a better reason finds him.
sleahey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with her many other young adult adventure novels, Pam Withers's latest has a suspenseful plot with a conflcted main character. We don't necessarily like 17-year-old Rex, because he is so driven to complete a first descent of a Colombian river that his famous grandfather was unable to accomplish that he is blind to the needs and feelings of others. His obsession, combined with an arrogance and narcissism, blind him to some real dangers, not only for himself but also for his expedition partners and the indegenous folks who help him. In many ways the plot is predictable in its twists and turns, but readers will find the ending satisfactory, particularly as Rex opens himself to awareness of others.
red_dianthus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is both a rousing adventure and a coming of age tale, while also trying to educate the reader about the social problems in Columbia. Amazingly it achieves all three of these goals while still being engaging and fun. Unlike many young adult books this story balances both adventure and the inner thoughts of the two main characters as they come to grips with both growing up and the world around them.I would recommend this book for high school libraries as well as for inclusion into literature circles and class projects focusing on world issues. This one is exciting enough to keep the reluctant readers turning the pages.
Joles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited to get this at BEA this year. It's hard to find good kayaking books. I highly enjoyed this book and could definitely connect with the characters. All of the kayaking references were good and you could tell that the author knew her stuff. Our protagonist, Rex goes to Columbia to run a river that his crotchety grandfather was unable to complete a first descent. Unfortunately, this section of Columbia is war-torn between the army (who stay mostly uninvolved), the paramilitaries and the guerrillas. There is a lot going on in the book without it being overwhelming. There is a good balance of kayaking and other action for those that are mostly interested int he kayaking portion.
laVermeer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
FIRST DESCENT is straight-up, high-interest adventure YA novel. World-class kayaker Rex Scruggs wants nothing more than to tag a first descent on a wild Colombian river. In doing so, he'll prove his skill and his worthiness to his highly critical grandfather, his national team, his sponsors, and himself. Colombia, however, has much more to teach him.The novel features familiar patterns of conflict. Rex must overcome the biases of his North American upbringing, his grandfather's doubts in Rex's abilities, the local conditions of a developing nation, and the challenge of El Furioso itself. The action is non-stop from the opening pages, including daring river rescues, Class V rapids, ziplines, landmines, and armed guerrillas, and the author keeps both the narrative tension and the reader's interest high.There is much to admire in this text, but much of the story itself is built from shopworn pieces. Rex's mother is a weakly drawn walk-on character: apologetic, sympathetic, and loving, but incompletely realized. Rex's grandfather is a crusty, bigoted old man with a regret-filled past. Josh is a nervous young entrepreneur, ready to comply with local oppression as long as North American and European tourists continue to visit. An attentive reader will observe how the story is constructed; while the plot is still suspenseful, its trajectory is largely predictable.The stronger component of the story for me was the Andean natives, los indigenas. While highly stereotypical in its details (the attractive and determined young women, the possessive and aggressive young suitor, the wise and mysterious grandmother, etc.), the narrative does provide some sense of the racism, oppression, poverty, and exclusion that indigenous groups experience and of the complexities associated with escaping these conditions.I would recommend this book for reluctant male readers. There is much in Rex for young men to identify with, and he is a strong, likeable character who ultimately makes the right choices under difficult conditions. I would also recommend this book for any readers looking for a fast-paced adventure story. FIRST DESCENT won't let them down.
wiremonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed from Librarything Advanced Reader's CopyOnce again, this is a book I would never have picked up if it were not for the fact that Librarything sent it to me.Rex is a champion kayaker who is determined to nab a first descent, the name given to the feat of being the first crazy person to kayak a river. But his heart is set on not just any first descent- he wants to kayak the one river his famous kayaker grandfather tried and failed to complete: the furioso located in Colombia.Myriam is an indigena living by the banks of the Furioso. Her great ambition is to go to University so she can become a journalist and expose the plight of her people. Stuck in between a bloody and ruthless guerrilla war between the rebels and the paramilitaries, her people and her way of life are slowly being exterminated.When Rex hires her as a guide for his expedition Myriam believes she has finally found the way to make it to University. Together they embark on an adventure replete with white water, cliffs, jagged rocks, minefields and soldiers.The strength in this novel are the Myriam sections when she is describing the horrors her people have to face as well as their acute poverty. She is a great foil to Rex who is self-centered and single-minded. He refuses to see the political dangers of the situation along the river and doesn't clue in to state of Myriam and her people for way too long. Although irritating, I suspect this might be true to the character of any red-blooded, indifferently educated young american.A fast-paced gripping read that combines adventure, sports and a glimpse into an under-reported human rights atrocity.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: The plot sounded exciting and I am a fan of this publisher, trusting their book selection when I haven't heard of the author before.Excellent. A superb adventure story that should especially touch reluctant male teen readers. This is an exciting rush of adrenaline from start to finish. 17-year-old Rex is an expert whitewater kayaker taking after his grandfather who raised him along with his mother. His grandfather was well-known in his day for making many first descents down rivers in South America but ended his career when local Natives chased him out of an area of Colombia leaving El Furioso unconquered to this day. Rex promises to finish his grandfather's legacy by making this his first "first descent" and heads off to Colombia without anyone in his family really understanding the political situation in that area. Hiring a local indigenous girl, 17-year-old Myriam, to be his guide he finds himself not only facing man vs. nature as he shoots extreme rapids but man vs man when he learns the plight of the indigena out in the wilderness caught between the paramilitary and guerrilla soldiers.An eye-opening story of culture clashes and world social problems that do not make headline news but should be known and addressed globally. Interesting characters that are real and relatable to teens. I found both Rex and Myriam to be likable teens, flawed and each developed throughout the story. I'm not usually into this type of "political situation" novel but am very fond of outdoor adventure/survival stories and found the political situation only enhanced the exhilaration of the plot. A great library pick!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!