Into the River

288p. ebook available. Polis. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781943818198.
Gr 8 Up—Te Arepa Santos is a 13-year-old Maori boy living in a remote rural town in New Zealand. Life is slow but rich with family and friends. He can easily spend a day catching eels with his friends, or nights with his grandfather telling stories of the ancestors he is named after. When the teen wins a scholarship to a prestigious Auckland boarding school, he goes with expectations from his family. The school resembles an English private school—Te Arepa is expected to study Latin and to put up with bullying by senior pupils, which is traditional within the setting. His Maori language and culture are not valued. As all the boys are given nicknames, Te Arepa becomes Devon, changing not only in name but in nature as he struggles to fit in. Devon's best friend is Steph, who has his own identity issues. Familiar with boarding schools, Steph manipulates teachers and other students to get what he wants. This work has won multiple awards in New Zealand and has been at the center of much controversy there. Aimed at older teens, the novel contains very strong language, underage sex, sexual relations between a student and a teacher, drug use, and violence. However, these elements are not gratuitous but are integral to the narrative, which the author based on his experiences as an educator in this kind of setting. While the story is firmly rooted in New Zealand, the themes are universal to all teens.
VERDICT This is not a book for sensitive readers, because of its content and challenging scenes. The Maori words and setting will be unfamiliar to many, but determined and curious teens will find this work thought provoking, eye-opening, and maybe even familiar.

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