A survival quest with vivid descriptions, Olive Aitken Gummer
Liz van der Laarse
12 March, 2021
Liz van der Laarse tells an epic story of survival in her book Cuz, which is so descriptive and perfectly written, it almost seems real. This is the story of two teenagers, River and his cousin Huia, as they fight their way through the merciless bush of Fiordland to get back home.
After a boat accident kills Huia’s Dad and leaves River and Huia stranded in a foreign terrain of bush with nothing but each other, they must learn the ways of the forest. They must learn to provide food and water for themselves while they make their hard journey home. The weather is against them, the odds are against them and the wild world yields to no one, but they can’t give up or else they will never see their families again.
River and Huia have not seen each other for many years and they must learn to trust and rely on each other if they are to survive. However, to get to that point they must overcome family dynamics and petty jealousies.
Huia is the brains behind their survival. She grew up with her parents and Nan who taught her everything about the bush and how to speak te reo. It was because of these lessons that Huia manages to keep the two of them alive. This caused some conflict, as River becomes jealous. River was not taught te reo Māori, because his Dad didn’t stick around to teach him when he was younger.
However, River also played his part when Huia was injured after a fall down a steep bank. River picks the berries, makes the traps, goes hunting and fishing and pretty much does everything while Huia recovers.
I think van der Laarse wrote this book not just as an interesting read, but also so that the reader will learn a few more words in te reo Māori. The book incorporates many te reo words into its pages in a great way. It also has a pretty cool section at the back, where it shows the reader which berries, plants and shoots are edible and which ones will kill you from poison within seconds. It has a helpful page of tips on what to do if you do happen to get stranded in the wild. Yup, this book has everything!
Overall, I really enjoyed Cuz, particularly the vivid descriptions of the bush and the interesting characters. The start was pretty slow but it really took off when the boat ride ended disastrously. The pace died down again as River and Huia were forced to settle into a life in the bush. I really loved some bits of the story as they were really exciting, like when Huia got caught in the rapids, or when the boat exploded. These bits in particular were so vivid, I could almost see them happening before my eyes.
A lot of the time the book was dealing with making traps and foraging for food, which got a bit repetitive at times. I did love the characters River and Huia. I think people will really be able to relate to them through the realistic way they talk, think and react to the problems they face in their quest.
I would certainly recommend this book to people aged 10+ who are really into stories of survival and would like to learn more about the wilderness in a fun way and improve their te reo at the same time.
- Olive Aitken Gummer is 12 years old and lives in Thames.