Should there be sex in young adult fiction? A resounding yes, according to panellists Karen Healey, Ted Dawe and Frances Young. Sex is a major part of many people’s lives and therefore it will turn up in fiction whether or not you’ve identified it as an important theme in your writing. How it is portrayed, positively or negatively, is another matter — Healey emphasised her wish for sex-positive teen fiction, getting rid of the shame that settles on us in adolescence. Dawe meanwhile was concerned that Harry Potter is leading a movement away from realistic, warts-and-all depictions of young men. (He obviously hasn’t read the testosterone-fueled mess that is Order of the Phoenix.)
The role of pornography in teen sexuality
Young cited various statistics linking increasingly violent pornography with sexual violence against women. If teens are discovering sex via violent porn, does this then influence their relationships and sexual experiences in the future? With pornography being increasingly accessible online, and society and media supporting the objectification of women, are we grooming our children into becoming sex offenders? Young considers this a public health crisis which needs to be addressed.
Differences between publishing in NZ/Australia vs. publishing in the US?
Healey mentions a saucy scene in While We Run which received a very positive response from her Australian editors, and some careful notes on her manuscript from her American publishers. (‘Do you have to use the word “unzip”?’) Her debut novel Guardian of the Dead was also initially written for an adult audience, and had to be altered to suit a teenage audience. The sex was cut but the violence was allowed to stay.
The Into the River controversy
Several panellists brought up the “dubious consent” of a particular sex scene (borderline rape) in Into the River, and the lack of any reprisals or sense of wrongdoing in the novel. Dawe said he dislikes being compelled to write a counter-argument into the text as that’s “proselytising” rather than fiction writing. He suggested his books are primers for teens just beginning to have sexual relationships, an accurate reflection of first-time messy unglamorous sex. What a scary thought.
Sex is a controversial topic but makes for fascinating discussion. Were you at the session? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
I am looking forward to meeting some Christchurch people. They have a different outlook on this compared to Aucklanders. If I get any spare time I will probably go for a stroll around the inner city, I lived in Salisbury Street many years ago.
What do you think about libraries?
Libraries are proving to be the most dynamic cultural edifices in a city. It used to be universities, theatres and galleries but these have all been torn apart by corporate culture and are sad shadows of their former selves. Libraries are egalitarian storehouses of incomparable wealth defended by staunch cultural warriors. Kia kaha!
What would be your “desert island book”?
The Great Gatsby. That book is a universe in a grain of sand. Perfect, mysterious, universal and particular.
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
I believe that the narrative is the framing principle of the universe. It is the core aesthetic that underpins everything that is or ever was.
Into the World joins together 2003’s Thunder Road, a fast-paced examination of boy racer culture and 2012’s award-winning Into the River, set against Māori mythology and a prestigious boarding school.
All three are wonderfully written and completely engrossing, telling the story of Te Arepa ‘Devon’ Santos. Charming, talented and impulsive Devon may just be one of my favourite ever literary characters (along with Pat Barker‘s Billy Prior). In some ways cursed by his own intelligence, he is set up to fail by society. His story shows how many hoops perceived outsiders are supposed to jump through in order to gain acceptance. No wonder there are people who want to live outside the system or to beat it.
We are fortunate in New Zealand to have a young adult writer like Ted Dawe who isn’t afraid to confront important issues like identity, sexuality, belonging and the nature of society. His stories feel as if they are ripped directly from the headlines.
This order was imposed by the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review. This appeals body is independent of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The interim restriction order will remain in place until the book is classified by the Board of Review for the second time.
Henry Talbot, Advisor, Information Unit, Office of Film and Literature Classification Te Tari Whakarōpū Tukuata, Tuhituhinga has advised us:
The interim restriction order makes it an offence to supply or distribute the book to anyone in New Zealand, pending a review of the book’s current Unrestricted classification (the Unrestricted classification was recently assigned by our office and is being appealed by the organisation Family First).
I have an opinion on this. What can I do?
Henry Talbot, Advisor, Information Unit, Office of Film and Literature Classification Te Tari Whakarōpū Tukuata, Tuhituhinga:
If you have questions or concerns about the interim restriction order, or if you would like to express an opinion about the appropriate classification of the book Into the River, please contact Julie Wall at the Film and Literature Board of Review: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: 14 October 2015
The Film and Literature Board of Review has issued its decision on the book Into the River. The book has been classified Unrestricted. This means that it can be supplied to anyone, of any age.
For detailed information about the classification history of the book, see the updated case study.
Our Content Development Policy guides the selection and management of resources collected and created by the Christchurch City Libraries Ngā Kete Wānanga-o-Ōtautahi. One of the core values expressed in this policy is Intellectual freedom and access to information (Chapter 7.5, p. 15).
Items prohibited by the Films, Videos and Publication Classification Act 1993 will not be purchased by the Library and material restricted by provisions of this act will not be issued to customers under the specified age. Apart from these statutory requirements, the Library will have no active censorship role.
The Policy asserts that Christchurch City Libraries supports the right of children and young adults to choose their own material. The responsibility for a child’s selection rests with parents or legal guardians (see membership form).
In line with this policy, the NZ Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (winner of the Young adult fiction category of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards) Into the river by Ted Dawe will not be getting explicit content stickers.
We do not censor books in this way unless they have been to the censor and have been rated.
To uphold the principle of intellectual freedom, the Library attempts to supply a balanced collection containing varying viewpoints on controversial issues. Material will not be suppressed or removed simply because it gives offence. While recognising the right of the individual to reject material, this should not diminish the overall breadth of the collection for other customers.