Nothing is more appealing to a curious child than a cupboard with a lock. More appealing still is knowing that the key to that cupboard is always kept in the lock, ready to be turned at any time when no-one else is looking. To a book lover, even more amazing than that is finding a pristine-looking book tucked in amongst all the important household documents. This was how I discovered, at age 9 or 10, 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'. When my mother found out that I was reading it, she wasn't particularly happy about it. She didn't want me to read it, but she didn't stop me. This is a very important lesson. Had she taken that book from me with no explanation given, I would have found ways to find it and not because I was an especially disobedient child, but because I would have been curious to know what was in the book to garner such a response from my mother. As it turned out, and perhaps just as my mother was hoping, I was far too young to understand any of the sexual content so I found it to be a very underwhelming book. In fact, I wondered what all the fuss was about.
Let's give our children more credit where policing books is concerned. To jump the gun with our responses to what we perceive will be damaging to them is to do a disservice to their intelligence. Over the past week, a young adult fiction book freely available to the public was banned from sale or supply in New Zealand after a complaint from conservative lobby group, Family First. 'Into the River' won Book of the Year and the Young Adult Fiction category in the 2013 NZ Post Children's Book Awards. It contains sex, drugs and obscene language. It also contains issues relating to racism and bullying. Aren't these topics that we should be talking to our pre-teens and teens about? I have not read the book, but now I really want to. I am not even the target demographic. This book was written for male teenagers, which is by and large, a difficult audience to reach. Surely something that encourages this demographic to pick up a book can only be a good thing?
Many of us may remember reading 'Clan of the Cavebear', 'Go Ask Alice' and the 'Flowers in the Attic' series, to name just a few. All of them contain confronting subject matter yet the overriding memory from these novels is not that they contained adult content but that they were powerful stories. The very fact that 'Into the River' is an award-winning novel demonstrates that Dawe's work has been judged by his peers to be a story deemed worthy of being told, shared and discussed.
The best way to get even the most reluctant reader to pick up a book is to ban it. With all the attention surrounding 'Into the River' over the past few days, Family First may have just done the complete opposite to what it had intended and actually promoted sales, given that it can still be bought from overseas websites.
What 'controversial' books did you enjoy reading as a teen?