The best books with young people trapped by draconian rules

Fleur Beale Author Of Juno of Taris
By Fleur Beale

Who am I?

I’m a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand and I’ve always been drawn to stories of struggle, especially where a character fights against outside control. I started writing for the high school students I was teaching and got hooked on the YA genre. I love it partly because it crosses all genres – I can write about a 14-year-old girl trying to live in a repressive religious cult but I can also write about a 15-year-old boy who’s a champion kart driver. Karting at top level takes enormous skill as I discovered, but it also has room for dirty tricks.

I wrote...

Juno of Taris

By Fleur Beale,

Book cover of Juno of Taris

What is my book about?

I visited the Eden Project in the UK and got to wondering what life would be like under a protective dome. In Juno of Taris, Juno is one of 500 who lives under a dome on the island Taris that protects them from the ravages of climate change. The rules are strict and they have to be if the community is to survive – however Juno begins to question whether they need to be as strict as they are. But questions are dangerous on Taris. The first question Juno and her classmates want answered is why they must submit to having their heads shaved regularly. They rebel incurring the wrath of the leaders. Danger lurks.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).


By Sherryl Jordan,

Book cover of Rocco

Why this book?

I loved this book when it came out in 1990 and I still love it. Rocco has disturbing dreams of being in a primitive, cave-dwelling society then shockingly the dreams become reality. He must learn to live with the people who struggle to survive in a harsh landscape. He learns to hunt with primitive weapons just as he must learn how to live with the people he’s found himself amongst. But why has he ended up here? There’s something amiss with this life and the wise woman seems to hold the key but she won’t tell him. When he finds himself back home recovering from bubonic plague he has to find the answer.

Rocco is a book I wished I’d written! The story is fascinating with its well-researched depiction of surviving in a harsh environment without modern technology or tools. Also, the plot is clever – how is it that Rocco is transported to life in a primitive world, why and importantly – how is the author going to get him back? Or not.

Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult

By Lilia Tarawa,

Book cover of Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult

Why this book?

I was privileged to be asked to mentor Lilia as she wrote of her life in and escape from the Gloriavale religious cult, a community of about 500 people living a secluded and strictly controlled life in a remote part of the South Island of New Zealand. Her life was like my fictional book, but on steroids. Four years after leaving the pain of knowing she’d never again see those she loved was still so acute that she wept as she wrote of it. Life inside Gloriavale fascinated and horrified me. But while Lilia gained the freedom to forge her own life she lost the closeness and love of wider family and friends. A heart-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story.

The Bridge

By Jane Higgins,

Book cover of The Bridge

Why this book?

This book had me hooked on the first line. We rode to war in a taxi cab. 

Nik and his friends live in a divided city. They are in the wealthy Cityside which is guarded against incursions from poverty-stricken Southside. In Cityside, ISIS (Internal Security and Intelligence Services) select the best and brightest from Nik’s school to become elite agents. He is clever, he’s quick thinking and smart so why is he not chosen?

The world is in chaos, kids are forced to fight for survival. But who is the enemy and are things really as they’ve always been taught? The twisty plotting of this novel is engrossing, the writing flows, tension and excitement abound. It’s a great read.

Violet Black

By Eileen Merriman,

Book cover of Violet Black

Why this book?

Violet Black is the first book in a trilogy set in the near future. Violet Black and Ethan Wright are both in a coma after contracting the lethal M-fever. They have never met:

I couldn’t speak, but I was trying so hard to communicate and then... then... I pushed. And something, someone, pushed back. Her name is Violet. Violet, but she is sunshine-yellow, and I need to find her because I think she might be just like me.

But there is a far more serious reason for Ethan to find Violet: the sinister Foundation is trying to hunt them down.

Violet Black in the first book of a trilogy where Violet must fight for her sanity and her freedom from those who want to control her. It’s always wonderful when you’ve got captured by a story and its characters to know that there are more books to come. I love Eileen Merriman’s books and these are a departure from the medically themed ones she also writes.


By Cristina Sanders,

Book cover of Displaced

Why this book?

Displaced is a historical young adult novel rich in detail, atmosphere, and life of a family in New Zealand in the early 1870s.

The main character Eloise is courageous in the way she copes with her life being torn apart by the men she trusted and believed in.

The fate of women in this time in history is completely held by the men of the family.

I loved the characters and I adore historical novels. This one is set in New Zealand when none of the Pakeha (white) settlers had heard the Maori name for the country of Aotearoa. Eloise, the protagonist is a young woman who is forced to forge her own way in an alien society filled with several different, and often conflicting, alien cultures to her. The research the author has done is impeccable so that it’s possible to immerse yourself in the fascinating but difficult life Eloise has to lead. Brilliant writing! Gripping story!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New Zealand, cults, and comas?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New Zealand, cults, and comas.

New Zealand Explore 29 books about New Zealand
Cults Explore 23 books about cults
Comas Explore 14 books about comas

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like I Am Not Esther (The Esther Series), The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa, and Ursa if you like this list.