R14 classification removed from prized novel after librarians appeal.

A sexually explicit book that has been restricted to people aged 14 and over for two years has been cleared for unrestricted release after an unusual appeal by librarians.

Deputy chief censor Nic McCully ruled the R14 restriction on Into The River, by Aucklander Ted Dawe, was an arbitrary and unfair breach of the right to freedom of expression.

But Family First director Bob McCoskrie, who originally complained about the book to the Film and Literature Board of Review, has appealed to the board again, saying it is "laced with detailed descriptions of sex acts, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking".

Review board president Dr Don Mathieson wrote a dissenting opinion in 2013, arguing the book should be given an R18 restriction because it "normalised" sex and drug-taking by a boy aged 13 and 14 as the book unfolds.

Advertisement

The 208-page novel, which won the top NZ children's book award in 2013, tells the story of Devon, a Maori boy who wins a scholarship to a boys' boarding school where he is bullied and experiences sex and drugs.

Dr Mathieson wrote in his minority opinion: "Girls are just sex objects for Devon. The book degrades and demeans his sexual partners."

Mr Dawe, 64, is now head of studies at Taylors College for international students, but grew up in Mangakino and Ruatoria and taught at Aorere College and Dilworth School in Auckland. He wrote the book for teenage boys "who don't read books, who come from working-class and possibly Maori backgrounds and who don't have books that speak to them. It's told in quite a confronting language and I don't mince words in terms of what kids do," he said.

He praised librarians at Auckland City Libraries who applied for the R14 restriction to be reconsidered.

"Librarians - they really are the warriors for books," he said. "I had not given up hope, but I didn't really believe they would succeed."

Auckland Libraries collections manager Louise LaHatte said: "The decision of the Board of Review was based on the fact that it dealt with bullying and racism, and we considered that children should be able to read about topics like that because it will help them understand and make sense of their own experiences."

See the full case history including the various censorship decisions here.

Restricted or not?

• June 2013: Into The River wins top prize in NZ Post Children's Book Awards.

• July: Internal Affairs Department submits it to the censor after complaints from the public.

• September: Censor classifies it 'M' (unrestricted) with a descriptive note "contains sex scenes, offensive language and drug use".

• December: Review Board partially upholds Family First appeal and imposes R14 restriction.

• March 2015: Auckland Libraries ask the censor to reconsider the classification.

• August 14: Censor reclassifies the book "unrestricted" with no descriptive note.

• August 18: Family First appeals to Review Board again.