Thursday, March 29, 2012

First Descent by Pam Withers

First Descent by Pam Withers (Tundra Books, 2011)

Summary from publisher:
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 Columbia, he hires a guide:  seventeen-year-old Myriam Calambas, an indigena 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 paramilitaires, who work for the rich landowners, and the guerillas, who are supposed to protect the poor.

First Descent is an exciting adventure story that is about more than it seems to be on the surface.  At first, I really didn't like Rex.  He was a self-absorbed teen who seemed to buy into many of his racist grandfather's beliefs about the indigenous people of Columbia, even though he claimed to hate those same views.  As Rex gets to know the people with whom he's staying, though, his eyes open to the abject poverty and the political situation that keeps those same people from speaking out on their own behalf.

Kids (both boys and girls) will enjoy the exciting kayaking scenes, and hopefully they'll learn a thing or two about a place in the world where lawlessness is the rule, a place completely different from the relatively easy place where they are growing up.  As an adult, I have heard for years about the conflict in Columbia and the drug trade that fuels it.  Even so, parts of this book were startling to me.  I learned a thing or two myself.

I can think of several students who will enjoy this book when I take it in to school on Monday.  I can't wait to share it!

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