As a parent and bookseller I was concerned to see Into the River by Ted Dawes win the recent NZ Post Children’s Book Award 2013.
I have since read the book (from cover to cover) and I now enclose a review.
“Devon (a.k.a. Te Arepa) is the central character of Dawes’ book. He lives on the East Coast of North Island NZ and experiences family / community dysfunction. At age 14 he goes to Auckland and attends a boarding school there.
The school has a ‘pecking order’ of older students (not bullying) but graphic violent assaults carried out on the younger students. Fear and intimidations uphold the social order. It is here that the c-word is used extensively along with f-word (I don’t use these words personally and would certainly not be allowing my children or expect school students to use them, so why should I be reading then in a children’s book!)
Devon meets Steph (a boy) at this school and they become ‘allies-brothers-in-arms’ but Steph is harbouring secrets…and this is where the adult themes really take hold in the book.
Steph is having an affair with his music teacher, Willie, along with having an affair with his father’s work colleague (who is a father himself). i.e. two separate paedophiles sexually abusing a 14 year old.
On a holiday back to East Coast, Devon has a graphic sexual encounter with young single mum (Tania) – twice…the second time whilst her young baby is in the room and who starts to mimic her mother’s sounds of arousal! (yet another scene normalising paedophilia.)
Back to school and Steph takes Devon to see their music teacher Willie during the weekend. Willie takes the boys to an isolated beach and they swim naked, then smoke a joint. The session finishes back at Willie’s house where the boys strip, and photos are taken of the boys (more sexual abuse)….these photos are added to a large pile of photos of naked boys.
Willie is one of the teachers that leads a school camp to Waiheke Island and both Steph and Devon are opportunistic to sneak graphic sexual encounters. The teachers in ‘control’ of camp lead the students in drug taking of ecstasy (drug abuse) and ends with a night swim complete with naked teacher and student engaging in an incident of statutory rape (yet more sexual abuse). No teacher holds any student accountable and it is a vile misuse of a teacher’s position and power.”
As a parent and as a bookseller, I feel that the week’s earlier comments in the media about the book were tame. This book is far worse than I ever imagined.
It deals with graphic sexual content and paedophilia. Explicit descriptions of drug taking glorify the abuse of drugs, and there is the misuse of adult power and sinister manipulation of 14 year olds. I find these ‘themes’ abhorrent, and definitely not the content or style that suits a children’s book. The book won in the 13-plus age category but the book is “aimed at 15-plus”, but I would not suggest this book to a 15 year old. In fact, not to any school age person. Many adults would find it highly offensive and upsetting.
Our children live in a highly sexualised, immoral environment – many commentators lament that fact, and yet here we have a repulsive, graphic book that offers nothing in the way of hope, inspiration or how to have a healthy personal relationship. All ‘hook-ups’ were based on animalistic drives…nothing else, and is void of any kinship.
The book should be stripped (pardon the pun) of this prestigious children’s book award.