An award-winning young adult novel has become the first book in more than 20 years to be banned in New Zealand after an outcry from a Christian group.
Ted Dawe’s award-winning Into the River has been banned from sale or supply by the Film and Literature Board of Review (FLBR) after a complaint from conservative lobby group Family First.
It is currently being pulled from libraries, schools and bookshops around the country.
Family First objected to sexually explicit content, drug use and the use of a slang term for female genitalia.
The interim restriction took effect on 3 September and will be reviewed to decide on a permanent classification within the next month.
According to the FLBR website, the interim restriction means no one can “distribute or exhibit” the book and if the order is breached individuals face a fine of NZ$3,000 and companies of NZ$10,000.
Into the River won the New Zealand Post Children’s Book award in 2013 and is aimed at a teenage, largely male audience.
Joanna Mathew, executive director of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand, said the banning of Into the River was “concerning” for freedom of speech in 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.
“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.
“By burying a story that actually reflects real societal issues we fail to create an environment where we can effectively address them.”
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said in a statement his group welcomed the interim banning of Into the River and the move could set a benchmark for restricting offensive content to younger readers in New Zealand.
Media law expert Professor Ursula Cheer told the New Zealand Herald it was legal to possess a copy of the book for your personal use but not to supply it to anyone else.
“Having it for your own personal use is OK,” she said. “Passing it around to your friends is not.”
The book is still available for purchase on Amazon and Kindle.Twitter was awash with conversation about the banning on Monday afternoon, including from New Zealand comedian Raybon Kan who tweeted: “As soon as possible, I intend to read Into the River. (Starting with all the pages that fall open by themselves.)”