Ted Dawe’s young adult novel Into the River has been placed on the “restriction order” in his home country of New Zealand, a move which bans the book nationwide. The book ban, New Zealand’s first in 22 years, has sparked a lively debate about free speech and censorship.
Dawe’s book is about a Maori boy from rural New Zealand who has to adapt to life in an elite boarding school. Into the River won critical praise after its 2013 release, even winning a book of the year award in New Zealand. But interest groups and parents assert that the novel’s use of offensive language and sexual themes makes it inappropriate for children. Originally, the book was given an R-14 restriction. New Zealand’s Deputy Chief Censor, Nic McCully, lifted that rating, which prompted a backlash from parents and interest groups.
The group that led the charge was Family First, a conservative family interest group. Bob McCoskrie, the group’s national director, told CNN that the organization was calling only for an age restriction, not an outright ban. New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board, however, went a different route.
Now on the restriction order, the book is banned throughout New Zealand. Individuals violating the ban will be subject to a fine of NZ$3,000 (a little less than $1,900 American). Companies will pay a stiffer fine of NZ$10,000 (nearly $6,300).
Ted Dawe is standing by his book, as is his publisher, Penguin Random House New Zealand. Others have stepped forward as well, including the CEO of Booksellers New Zealand. New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board can lift the ban, but not until it meets next month. Dawe and others will be watching with interest to see what they do.