So what's all the fuss about Ted Dawe's book Into the River?

Ted Dawe is the author of the restricted book Into the River.
FAIRFAX NZ

Ted Dawe is the author of the restricted book Into the River.

Who is Ted Dawe?

The 64-year-old author of award-winning teen novel Into the River has taught at Aorere College and Dilworth School. He is now director of studies at Taylors College for international studies in Auckland. His first novel Thunder Road, a prequel to Into the River, was also critically lauded and won awards.

What is his book Into the River about?

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It is the story of 14-year-old Te Arepa "Devon" Santos, a Maori boy from the rural East Coast who wins a scholarship to attend an exclusive boys' school in Auckland where he is bullied. The book contains sexual activities, drug taking and offensive language.

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Why was the book banned?

It wasn't. It is subject to an interim restriction order pending a decision by the Film and Literature Board of Review, which means it cannot be sold in New Zealand, or taken out of the library. A decision as to its classification is expected in October, but it is considered unlikely that the book will actually be banned.

Okay, but what brought this about?

Unlike films and games, in New Zealand books are only classified if someone makes a submission to the Office of Film and Literature Classification. In July 2013, the Department of Internal Affairs submitted Into the River for classification following complaints from members of the public. The book was duly classed M (unrestricted). Family First, the conservative Christian lobby group led by Bob McCoskrie, then sought a restricted classification for the book. In December 2013 the Board of Review classified the book R14, at which point warning stickers were applied. 

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Then what happened?

Librarians noticed that once the book was classed R14, instances of it being borrowed dropped dramatically. "We saw it was having a huge effect on the use of the book," says Auckland Libraries collections manager Louise LaHatte. "We had to take it off the shelves, people could only request copies, and they had to produce ID, which is not easy for a 14-year-old." Auckland Libraries appealed the R14 classification on the grounds that people who were eligible to read the book were struggling to access it. The Classification Office reconsidered the decision and last month the book was again classed "unrestricted". Family First has now sought a review of that decision, and in the meantime the book is restricted.

Has this ever happened to a book in New Zealand before?

No. The Classification Office has never before reconsidered a decision of the Board of Review. And while interim restriction orders have been put on films in the past, they have never been applied to a book.

If you want to read it, where can you get it?

You can still get copies on Amazon. No-one can stop you ordering a copy of the book, but there is no guarantee you will actually receive it. New Zealand Customs, which has the right to open packages entering the country, could confiscate any copies of the book discovered. If you were to download an e-book onto your Kindle, however, there is little anyone could practically do to stop you.

If you already own the book, what happens to you?

Nothing. "By all means get it out and read it again," says copyright expert Ursula Cheer, a law professor at the University of Canterbury. However, you're not supposed to share the book with others, and by doing so you would be breaking the law. That said, the police are unlikely to show any interest. "They would be more likely to pursue someone who made copies available online."

If someone distributes the book, what happens to them?

In theory, they are breaking the law and could expect a visit from the police, says Cheer. In reality, it is all about scale. If a bookshop were to display and sell copies of the book, they could be liable for a $10,000 fine. Fines are $3000 for individuals who breach the order, but you're probably safe if you want to lend it to your friends and neighbours.

Just how naughty is this book?

"It's unfair to pick this book out," says LaHatte, who notes that many contemporary young adult books are frank in their discussion of sex, drugs and death. "Yes, there is sex and swearing in it, but it's all contextual, it's not glorifying it."

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