Writer Ted Dawe explores the traps which await young men in the follow-up to his controversial teen novel.

Sex, drugs, racism and police chases: author Ted Dawe's sequel to his controversial novel Into the River begins five minutes after the end of that story with the next chapter of teen Te Arepa "Devon" Santos' turbulent life.

But readers of Into the World may be surprised to find that while similar provocative issues are addressed, Devon, newly expelled from an exclusive Auckland's boys' school, spends a fair chunk of time learning "decisions made quickly can lead to disaster." After a stint as a guest of the Department of Corrections, he tries to clean up his act. There's even a fairly chaste relationship with a Christian girl and less bad language.

"It's three years in his life, from 16 to 19, and there's less swearing because he's got older," says Dawe. "As you get older, you tend to develop a better arsenal of language."

Into the River, the 2013 NZ Post Children's Book award winner, became mired in controversy last year when it was banned. It featured sexually explicit content, drug use and strong language. The ban was lifted by the New Zealand Film and Literature Board.


Says Dawe: "There has been a level of attack and criticism ... that is quite unparalleled; however the book has gathered its own tribe of loyal supporters."

Like Into the River, Dawe says Into the World is a story about the traps that young men fall into, with a focus on the results of bad decisions. He says it's easy to cherry-pick controversial passages, but they need to be read in the context of the book and its predecessor.

"I consider myself to be a very moral writer; I am writing about the things that young men do - because it's a fact that boys do do these things - and I'm not trying to dress it up. There's a lot there about bad decisions and the consequences of those can be alarming and dangerous."

Asked whether we teach our children enough about consequences, the former high school English teacher is uncertain.

"But I do know if you're not careful, kids think they're getting a lecture so you have to be quite careful - sneaky, almost - about how you talk about certain things. You can say, 'Don't do drugs - drugs are bad,' and your child is standing thinking, 'Well, guess what, dad? I've already tried drugs and nothing bad happened to me,' so they think they can get away with it and some do - but lots don't.

Ted Dawe's award-winning book Into the River stirred up controversy when it was banned. Picture / Jason Oxenham
Ted Dawe's award-winning book Into the River stirred up controversy when it was banned. Picture / Jason Oxenham

Dawe says he wants to write the most complete account of a young man's life in New Zealand that has ever been written. Into the River was always to be the first of a trilogy.

His first novel, Thunder Road, won the Young Adult Fiction section and the Best First Book Award at the 2004 NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Devon Santos featured in that story and, prompted by questions from students about the character, Dawe decided to tell Devon's story.

He started writing Into the World almost immediately after Into the River. Dawe says the final part of the trilogy will be a reworking of Thunder Road from Devon's point of view.

The new book is out on Tuesday.