The best speculative young adult fiction from Aotearoa New Zealand that will challenge you to think harder

Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights, and my own writing explores such issues, including who holds the power and who exerts the control. By writing about real-world issues in a speculative future, it allows us to peel back the layers of conditioning and look at ourselves and our actions through the eyes of an outsider – which forces us to examine our best and worst human traits. I love the way speculative fiction can do this, and I love that it challenges us to do better.  

I wrote...

The Nature of Ash

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Nature of Ash

What is my book about?

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism, and many lies.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding. While trying to protect his brother, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives. The Nature of Ash is a fast-paced thriller that explores love and loss, assumptions and prejudices, truth and fiction, and the many faces of ‘family’.

The books I picked & why

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By Bernard Beckett,

Book cover of Genesis

Why this book?

If you’re into philosophy, this is the book for you! It explores the big questions about the origins of life and human consciousness, and what is it to be human and what makes a soul. Set in a distant future, on an island republic brutally policed to keep out survivors from the ruined world beyond its shores, Anaximander is put through a grueling examination to get into The Academy. I loved how it pushed my brain and went in places I wasn’t expecting. 


By Tina Shaw,

Book cover of Ursa

Why this book?

Described as an ‘alternate history coming-of-age YA’, Ursa packs a real punch. Set in a world deeply divided into those who can live freely and those denied all human rights, it shows what happens when the desire for freedom in those oppressed ignites into a revolution. Brutal and unflinching, with important things to say about fascism and xenophobia, you won’t be able to stop reading!

The Burning River

By Lawrence Patchett,

Book cover of The Burning River

Why this book?

Though not packaged as YA, I think it sits well here. It’s speculative cli-fi, imagining an Aotearoa New Zealand ravaged by climate change. Steeped with Māori references, it’s a rollicking good yarn with a serious undertow and questions about how we care (and don’t care) for our environment, and the things that join and divide us.

Children of the Furnace

By Brin Murray,

Book cover of Children of the Furnace

Why this book?

The first in a trilogy, it takes a little while to adjust your reading ‘ear’ to the strange new language used, but then you’re rewarded by another great speculative cli-fi novel, with complex, layered characters, lots of tension, and a plot that will challenge you to think harder about how climate change may affect the future. 

When We Wake

By Karen Healey,

Book cover of When We Wake

Why this book?

When Tegan dies, she wakes up a hundred years later, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened. As she tries to make sense of this future world, it starts to feel as if something is very wrong. Should she keep her head down and just live out her life, or should she fight to make the future better for all? An excellent story from a world-class writer. “Accessible, thoughtful and compelling — science fiction done right.” – Kirkus Reviews

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New Zealand, dystopia, and Australia?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New Zealand, dystopia, and Australia.

New Zealand Explore 29 books about New Zealand
Dystopia Explore 233 books about dystopia
Australia Explore 178 books about Australia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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