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Young Adult Fiction General

First Descent

by (author) Pam Withers

Initial publish date
Feb 2014
General, Caribbean & Latin America, Extreme Sports
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2014
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2011
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 18
  • Grade: 7 to 12


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.

About the author

Award-winning author Pam Withers has written numerous bestselling sports and adventure books for teens, including four for Orca Book Publishers: Camp Wild, Breathless, Daredevil Club and . Pam is a former outdoor guide, journalist, editor and associate publisher. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and tours North America extensively. For more information, visit

Pam Withers' profile page

Editorial Reviews

“…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

Librarian Reviews

First Descent

First descent is to kayaking as “first to summit” is to mountaineering. To have one to your credit is an honour that young kayakers dream of. Rex Scruggs, 17 and ambitious, is no exception. Moreover, he’s always had his river in mind — Colombia’s El Furioso, a perilous mountain torrent that once defeated his cantankerous grandfather. But there’s more to first descent than a kayak and a river, as Rex quickly learns when he arrives in a Colombian highland straining with tension between warring guerrillas and paramilitarias that threatens to tear the locals’ lives apart. His river guide, Myriam, is one of the locals, a lovely girl with restless dreams of a university education — and mysterious ties to Rex’s family history.

This crackerjack tale has it all — secrets to uncover, a hint of romantic tension and, of course, lively action: the whitewater sequences are visceral and exciting even without prior knowledge of kayaking as a sport. Point-of-view duties are shared between Rex and Myriam, so readers may identify with either the former’s journey from arrogant naiveté to unselfish awareness or with the latter’s struggles to follow her heart without neglecting her people. It’s a very real concern: the harsh struggles Colombian villagers face to protect and feed themselves are sensitively and unflinchingly depicted here, and may inspire more than one reader to learn more.

Brisk, snappy language, an exotic setting and a socially-conscious tale of adventure well told — First Descent is a solid recommendation for adventure lovers of any age or gender.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Spring 2012. Volume 35 No. 2.

First Descent

Rex wants to make a first descent of El Furioso, a wild river in Colombia. He hires Myriam, who has lived along the river her whole life, as his guide. She dreams of going to university, becoming a reporter and telling the world about her people. When she and Rex get caught up in a clash between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas, they find themselves in great danger.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. Fall, 2012.

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