Young Adult Contenders for the Hugo and Nebula in 2015

Over the past week, we’ve been look at trends about YA Fiction and Hugo and Nebula Awards, 2001-2014. The results were pretty stark: YA novels don’t have much of a chance to make a slate (6% for the Hugo, 2% for the Nebula). If they’re going to make the slate, one of the following has to happen:

1. The YA book has to be written by an author already well-known to the Hugo and Nebula audiences, such as Le Guin, Gaiman, etc.
2. The YA book has to be enormously popularly, i.e. Harry Potter levels of popular.

Do any 2015 YA adult novels fit that profile? Not really. Gaiman doesn’t have a YA SFF book out this year, nor Le Guin, nor Rowling, nor any of the other writers who have done well in this space lately like Nalo Hopkinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, or China Mieville.

So we’re left looing for some dark-horse contenders. A good place to start is the Goodreads SFF YA Vote. If you look at that page, you’ll see why YA novels have a hard time: most of the popular novels are #2, #3, #4, etc. in a series, and neither the Hugo or Nebula like books from the middle of a series. Add in other structural disadvantages (they don’t get reviewed in the same places as adult SFF novels, they don’t make year end lists), and it’s hard find any strong contenders for 2015.

So let me give your four novels that have the best shot. I don’t expect any of these to make a Hugo or Nebula slate, but each is popular enough that, with a little—or huge—push from a campaign, they might make some noise.

Half a King Red Rising I'll Give You the Sun City of Havenly Fire

Half a King, Joe Abercrombie: Abercrombie is well known to fantasy audiences for his grimdark First Law trilogy. This is his first move into a YA space, and the novel has plenty of crossover appeal for pre-existing Abercrombie fans. Abercrombie hasn’t done particularly well in the Hugos or Nebulas so far—0 total nominations—but he is popular, and the start of a new series is always a place to win new fans. Don’t except this to make the Hugo slate, but I could see this picking up enough votes in the Hugo nomination process to wind up in the #10-#15 range.

Red Rising, Pierce Brown: Brown’s YA SF revolution book was hugely marketed at the beginning of 2014 as the “next big thing.” I don’t know if Brown lived up to that label, but the sheer amount of hype means Red Rising is well-known. This also made a few year-end lists, and the fact that it’s clearly SF (set on Mars), not just dystopic, will make it a little more appealing to Hugo voters. I think Brown is going to benefit from the early launch date of the sequel, Golden Son, out January 6, 2015. The marketing campaign for that novel will sell more copies of Red Rising, perhaps enough to fetch Brown some Hugo votes.

I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson: Abercrombie and Brown are potential Hugo nominees; Nelson’s magic realist YA novel is more of a Nebula book. A heart-tugging coming-of-age story about twins intertwined with some more magical elements, this covers some of the same ground that made Among Others so successful. I think this is more of an Andre Norton nominee than a Nebula, but this book is evoking a ton of strong sentiment in its readers. That strong attachment is something that could drive a successful campaign; for these YA books to make a slate, they need to really capture the public imagination.

City of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare: It’s the wrong genre for either the Hugo or Nebulas (urban fantasy), it’s #6 in a series, but these books are phenomenally popular. To put that in perspective, this book has twice (80,000+) the Goodreads ratings of the most popular SF book of the year (Andy Weir’s The Martian at around 40,000). 5 years ago, we never would have predicted a Mira Grant, Larry Correia, or Robert Jordan making a slate, and while I don’t anticipate a The Wheel of Time style nomination for Mortal Instruments, there’s nothing stopping that from happening. The flop of the film, though, indicates that this is more niche than either Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, so I can’t see this getting any Hugo attention. Still, what do I know?

I’ll be adding Abercrombie and Pierce to the lower part of my Hugo prediction. At the very least, it’ll be fun to keep track of their sales, and we can see how badly YA novels are outselling adult SFF. Since the Nebula is so inhospitable to YA fiction, I won’t be adding Nelson to that list, and until I see an organized campaign for Clare, she won’t be on either list.

YA novels do not need to be in the Hugo or Nebula mix to be worth reading, and the Hugo and Nebula have never been great indicators of quality. The Hugo and Nebula are very peculiar awards, mired in decades of biases, in-fighting, and strange genre distinctions. Anyone else know some YA novels that are likely Hugo/Nebula contenders, and, beyond that, of strong interest to genre fans?

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