November 18, 2017

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New Zealand Bans YA Title “Into the River”; Imposes Fine for Selling, Sharing Book

Into-The-River_DaweTed Dawe’s YA novel Into the River (Mangakino University Press, 2012) has been temporarily banned throughout New Zealand, and buying or lending the book to others there will lead to a fine.

The ban is the result of an order by New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review, with imposed fines of up to NZ$10,000 for stores that sell—or even exhibit—the title, and NZ$3,000 for individuals who lend a copy to another person. The agency’s president, Don Mathieson, spearheaded the decision. To date, there have been reportedly no fines.

“The Film and Literature Board of Review has placed an interim restriction order on a book; ‘Into the River,’ reads a memo from New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, a regulatory group. “This means that no one New Zealand can distribute, or exhibit, the book.”

The YA novel, soon to be part of a series, according to Dawe, tells the story of a Maori boy at boarding school, with elements of bullying, racism, sexuality, and drug use woven throughout the plot. Although not the first time issues have been raised about the book, the ban is a first for the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (2013), and also the first time a book has been banned in New Zealand in 22 years, according to news reports. The previously banned book was reportedly an instruction manual for how to build a bazooka gun.

Mathieson ordered the temporary ban on September 3, following lobbying by a conservative Christian group, Family First. The group had reportedly objected to New Zealand’s Classification Office lifting a R14 restriction on the book on August 11th. That rating had made it illegal for anyone to sell or share the book with children 13 and under—and forced the book into the stacks at libraries.

“Whereas it had formerly been the most borrowed [New Zealand] YA book in the country, it immediately became a rarely borrowed, forgotten book,” Dawe said via email from his home in Auckland, NZ. “Kids don’t come into libraries to ask for books from the stacks, they want what is in front of them on the shelves.”

After the Classification Office removed any restriction on the title in its August ruling, Mathieson, who has authority to temporarily ban titles on his own, subsequently issued his order, halting any further sales, check-outs, or distribution of the title until the Board meets in October. In his order, Mathieson stated that he hoped his ruling would “…operate as a semi-precedent and will exert a significant influence upon other decisions portraying teenage sex and drug-taking.”

Reaction to Mathieson’s decision was swift. Silent readings, where assembled people read the book in silence, have been held, according to Dawe. Orders for the book have started pouring in, says Dawe, as well as bookstore manager Jenna Todd, with buyers on waiting lists for when the ban is lifted.

Todd, manager of the Auckland-based bookstore Time Out, designed a window display including Dawe’s title, wrapped in a brown, store bag, amid other banned books, including George Orwell’s Animal Farm and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. A post on Time Out’s Facebook page earned more than 1,000 likes and hundreds of shares, and a tweet published by the bookstore from its Twitter account was retweeted more than 400 times.

“This decision has not only surprised me, but made me very angry,” Todd said by email. “I’ve been working in the book industry only six years, but this hasn’t happened in my time.”

According to Todd, the book can still be purchased on Amazon from New Zealand although the online retailer reportedly pulled the link for its ebook download after the ruling was announced. (Amazon did not respond to questions from this reporter.)

Dawe himself says that while he’s “amazed” by this ruling, the book has engendered debate since its debut.

“These [complaints] had been raised by parental groups ever since the book came out,” he said. “However, none of the many YA groups I had spoken to and with had ever raised an objection to anything. They were interested in the narrative, not its trappings.”

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Deborah MacInnis says:

    I remember when Lady Chatterley’s Lover by T. H Lawrence was forbidden to Young Adults. Somehow we all read it without getting it at the library, where we would have had to ask for it and it would have been denied and a phone call would have gone to our parents. I remember when you had to ask at the news stand or drug store for Playboy, but all the boys and art students read it. (Yes I am dating myself.)
    This is the best publicity that the book could ever get. Does anyone really think Young Adults have not seen racism, sex, and drugs, even if they do not have direct experience with drugs and sex?!