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article imageTeen novel banned after outcry from New Zealand Christian group

By Megan Hamilton     Sep 9, 2015 in World
Auckland - New Zealand censors sparked outrage on Monday after banning an award-winning teen novel that includes sex and bullying, making it the first book removed from shelves in more than two decades.
Auckland author Ted Dawe said he was "blindsided" by the ban on his coming-of-age story "Into the River", which won the New Zealand Post children's book of the year in 2013, AFP reports.
"It's extraordinary," Dawe told the New Zealand Herald. "I've had quite a few emails from people who share that sense of outrage.
"Do we live in a country where books get banned? I'll get burnt next."
After a flurry of battles with censors, individuals who sell the book can be fined up to NZ $3,000 ($1,900), and companies that sell it can be fined as much as NZ $10,000 ($6278).
Banned by the Film and Literature Board of Review (FLBR) by the conservative lobby group Family First, the book is being pulled from libraries, schools, and bookstores around the country, The Guardian reports.
The ban is temporary, the FLBR noted. It will remain in place until the organization reviews the decision next month, AFP reports.
A spokesman for the FLBR said that no book had been subjected to such a ban since the legislation was introduced in 1993.
Family First complained about the book's sexually explicit content, drug use, and the use of a slang word for female genitalia, the Guardian reports.
The group objected to graphic language and themes within the book that included "strong offensive language, strong sexual descriptions (and) covers serious things like pedophilia and sexual abuse," said Bob McCoskrie, National Director, Family First NZ, according to CNN.
However, he says the group never requested a ban. Instead, they wanted an age restriction, but McCoskrie says that parent's he's contacted are sympathetic to the group's position.
"I've read it to parents, I've sat with a group of fathers, none of them want their children to be reading it," he told CNN. "I wouldn't want my daughter to be hanging around with people who have been reading it."
"Into the River" is aimed at a largely teenage male audience, an audience that Dawe notes is often difficult to reach, the Guardian reports.
"I have taught in secondary schools for the past forty years," he says. "Much of this time has been spent encouraging boys to read. Part of the challenge was to find books that 'spoke' to them. This meant books about issues that were relevant to them and written in a style that was authentic."
"There are many issues that young adults can not take to other people. They want to do their own thinking about them," he added. "There is no better, no more private medium for this than the novel."
"In this relatively safe context the teenager can navigate through issues such as race, sexual orientation, body issues, class discrimination and bullying and harassment. They can test their responses against the main characters and calibrate the differences without the need to discuss."
"The last banned book was entitled 'How to Build a Bazooka," Dawe said. "Perhaps the content of 'Into the River' is a bazooka fired into the complacent middle class oligarchy that rules this country."
The banning of "Into the River" was a "concerning" problem for freedom of speech in New Zealand, Joanna Mathew, executive director of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand.
"I have read the book, and while there is content in there that is confronting it doesn't warrant being banned," she said, per the Guardian.
"A key principle underlying the library and information profession is freedom of access to information. Individuals should have the ability to make their own decisions about what is suitable."
She added:
"By burying a story that actually reflects real societal issues we fail to create an environment where we can effectively address them."
On Twitter, novelist Emily Perkins expressed her own thoughts:
— Emily Perkins (@EmilyJPerkins)
September 6, 2015
"On that banned book: If I were a teenager and hadn't read 'Into the River' I would *definitely* want to read it now."
New Zealand's poet laureate, CK Stead added: "I haven't read the book but it's obvious from what has been said about it there's nothing that is sensational for the sake of it or is trading off those subjects."
"It is really trying to deal with those subjects as those are things teenagers have to deal with and it is trying to meet teenagers at their level so they can recognize their particular reality," he said. "The banning is a very bad decision, very wrong."
Silent protests have sprung up across the country--in Wellington and Auckland--and another protest will be held on Thursday at the University of Otago in Dunedin, reports.
Author Emma Neale, who worked on the novel at its earliest stages and also edited it, will silently read from the book to protest its ban.
"I was so shocked by this news," she said. "It seems so ludicrous."
"I don't think a minority group should be able to prevent young adults from reading any particular book."
She added:
"I wanted to make a statement without breaking the law. I'm not a firebrand."
Protesters also plan to bring other books that have been banned, such as DH Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover."
Neale added that "shock headlines" regarding the book's sexual content failed to convey that it was not "written to excite or titillate."
"It is directed at a readership that is not normally catered for, and it is confronting issues that we are obviously uncomfortable with confronting as a nation."
"The way Family First focused on elements such as the sex scenes and drug taking, which is not condoned by the book at all, has completely removed the focus that this is about a disenfranchised and disadvantaged young Maori boy sent to a privileged boarding school, but is then subjected to so many different forms of racism."
The novel is suitable for older teens and adults alike, Neale said, adding "if a 13-14-year-old was sophisticated enough to read it ... they would be sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of character and decision making."
"I would understand if some parents said, 'My child's not ready for this.' It is their right to choose but it is not anyone else's right to ban the book outright."
She said she was encouraged by the public outrage and hoped the interim decision was a "chance to take a deep breath and rethink the whole process."
CNN notes that "Into the River" won the Supreme Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award at the 2013 NZ Post Children's Book Awards, which established the book's prominence, and notoriety in some circles.
Dawe was named an Honorary Literary Fellow by the New Zealand Society of Authors earlier this year.
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