Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Banned NZ teen book Into the River wins 'perfect 10' in US

A raunchy novel for teenagers that was banned in New Zealand has won a rare "perfect 10" rating from an American young adult fiction website.

Into the River by Aucklander Ted Dawe, has been rated 10 out of 10 in an annual list published by VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), which calls itself "the leading library journal dedicated to the needs of young adult librarians".

Dawe said his book might be the first Kiwi novel to appear on the list and the endorsement could dramatically boost the sales of the US edition of his novel, which came out last June.

"It's a big reviewing magazine in America and it controls a lot of what the libraries and the schools buy when it comes to young adult fiction," he said.

Ironically, the book was only picked up by an American publisher because it was banned by New Zealand's Film and Literature Board of Review in September 2015 after a complaint by the Family First lobby group about its "highly offensive and gratuitous language, adult themes and graphic sexual content".

The NZ ban was lifted after a month and the book is now in libraries here without an age restriction.

Dawe said Jason Pinter of New York's Polis Books saw the controversy in the news and bought the rights to a US and Canadian edition.

"The book was published with 130 footnotes to explain the Maori words and Kiwi-isms," Dawe said.

VOYA says on its website that it rated more than 1100 books for young adults in 2016 on scales of 1 to 5 for literary quality and 1 to 5 for "teen appeal". Only 33 (3 per cent) rated 10 out 10.

Reviewer Lucy Schall said Into the River "combines today's too-common horrific headline news with native legend and wisdom to produce a tough and plausible culture-clash, coming-of-age story".

"This is a crossover, hard-hitting read appropriate for life-experienced and older teens as well as adults," she wrote.

Dawe, 66, director of studies at Auckland's Taylors College, said Polis Books had now picked up the first book he wrote about the same characters as Into the River, Thunder Road, for US publication this year, and planned to publish the third in the trilogy, Into the World, next year.

Award-winning NZ filmmaker Paul Judge has acquired the rights to turn Into the River into a film.

- NZ Herald

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