FIRST DESCENT by Pam Withers


Age Range: 12 & up
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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)

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-77049-257-8
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Tundra
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2011


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