Downriver by Will Hobbs

Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 on the Grand Canyon:
“I want you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interests of the country . . . Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine it must be an exciting place, especially seen from a canoe deep inside the gorge. I can’t say I’m up for the trip anytime soon, but maybe in eternity when I have plenty of time to train and no fear of death.

In this YA book, eight teens, four girls and four guys, ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon. Jessie is the narrator, angry with her dad for remarrying after her mother’s death. Troy is the wealthy, spoiled natural leader of the group, the one who talks them into their wild adventure and keeps them going once they start down the canyon. Rita is a street-smart New York Hispanic girl with a loud mouth and a gift for outdoor cooking. Heather is the one who is most likely to complain, give up, and go home. Star is from a tough background, formerly homeless, but with an ethereal quality that makes her perilously dependent on her superstitions and Tarot cards. Adam is the clown, always ready to diffuse the tension or sidetrack the conversation with a joke or a comedy routine. Pug, aka the Big Fella, is dumb, strong, and maybe dangerous; against the rules, he carries a knife. And Freddy, part Hopi and part Basque, is the best paddler and wilderness survivor of the bunch, but he’s a mystery, a man of few words, and the only one that Troy can’t figure out or dominate.

Of course, Jessie falls for the wrong guy, at first. It’s rather obvious from the outside, looking in, that Troy is a manipulative schemer. As the trip down the canyon progresses, the kids learn all about how much they can depend on one another, who’s smart and who’s not, and what they each have inside themselves. They don’t learn their own limitations nor do they really reap the consequences of their bad choices, but there’s a sequel, or a companion novel, River Thunder, and maybe that’s where these kids really grow up. Although I would never in my life have wanted to canoe anywhere calm and easy, much less in whitewater, I did enjoy reading about it. I’m on the lookout for a copy of Thunder River, to spend some more time with these flawed but compelling characters and see what happens to them next.

Just a note, probably because it was published in 1991, just before all the barriers came down, there is no bad language in the book, except indirectly referenced: “she added a string of New York’s best obscenities.” These are rebellious, delinquent kids, and probably their language would realistically reflect that. But I sure was glad I didn’t have to read a “string of obscenities.” I wish other authors would take note and leave out the particulars of nasty language, too.

1 thought on “Downriver by Will Hobbs

  1. Looks like this would make a wonderful summer read. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ve been searching for some good YA books for the kiddo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *