Banned Book Week 2016

It’s Banned Book Week, guys!

Last year, I jumped into the conversation with a post about impressionable teenage readers. When Sheila at Book Journey sent a reminder about Banned Book Week 2015, I was all in. I was thinking over the next few days about what to write about, when, as if on queue, there was breaking news about a YA book banned in New Zealand. Clearly, this was a sign. I cannot resist all things New Zealand.

Let me tell you about this book: Into the River, by Ted Dawe.

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In 2013, this novel, a prequel to Dawe’s earlier work Thunder Road, won a New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award.

Just recently, after complaints from a family advocacy group about the book’s “sexually explicit content, drug use and the use of a slang term for female genitalia” (The Guardian), the New Zealand Film and Literature board has placed an “interim restriction order” on the book, subject to a permanent classification sometime this month. (If you want the full scoop, go here.)

Currently, this book cannot be distributed or displayed anywhere in New Zealand.

Most of the new articles mention this being the first book banned in New Zealand in 22 years. I am not sure what book was banned 22 years ago, but according to this handy WIkipedia page, a book called The Peaceful Pill Handbook was initially banned in 2007.

The Peaceful Pill Handbook, not that I’m advocating for its banning, provides information on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Into the River is a coming-of-age story at an all-boys boarding school in Auckland, New Zealand. Te Arapa is a Maori teenager who leaves his village and family to attend a prestigious boarding school on scholarship. The early chapters, dripping with cultural references, illustrate Te Arapa’s relationship with his grandfather, and how he grows up.

And then, he goes on to school, where his name and his identity are both transformed. Devon, as he is now called, makes a lot of bad decisions, many of them related to drugs and sex. He also witnesses his best friend’s inappropriate relationship with a teacher. In the end, I found that he had become a pretty despicable person (who was also surrounded by some awful adults).

The National Director of Family First NZ, the group that sparked the ban was quoted as saying “”I’ve read it to parents, I’ve sat with a group of fathers, none of them want their children to be reading it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be hanging around with people who have been reading it.”

I wouldn’t want my daughter to be hanging around with people who have been reading it.

Yikes. That’s a powerful statement about fear of written words. I didn’t love this book. I didn’t love the characters. However, I don’t believe that reading this book would give anyone the impression that the choices Devon made were great, logical steps forward in life.

Parents, by all means, raise questions about what your children are reading. Give input. Discuss books together. Guide them towards books that will make them smarter, more critical, more compassionate people. Please.

But let’s give the entire population of NZ a little credit, and let individuals and families make their own choices about reading material.

And, if you want to throw Ted Dawe a bone, Into the River is available on Amazon – complete with a parental advisory explicit content warning (provided you’re not in NZ).

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