Why The Hugos Should Have A "Best YA Novel" Award

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I remember a TV segment that had reporters walking up to random people in Hollywood to ask, “How’s your screenplay coming?”  No matter who they ask, every single interviewee brightened – never doubting for a second that someone would want to hear about their pet project – and said, “Well, I’ve got a guy who’s interested in it…”
I never understood that “everyone’s doing it” culture until I went to WorldCon, and discussed YA fiction.
Young Adult fiction is hot – blisteringly so. Novels that would be lucky to sell 10,000 copies in the “adult” section suddenly move 50k when slapped with the YA tag. And these kids are fans deeply invested in the books, huge fans who rave about it to their friends, so there’s a loyalty factor that’s through the roof.  This is, literally, the next generation of fans – and if this is the future, then it looks like speculative fiction is going to thrive.
As such, almost everyone I talked to was working on a Young Adult novel – some even cynically retooling old pitches into sleek modern “YA” books, often without changing the content.  It got to the point where I felt like I could shout to the crowd and ask, “So how’s your YA-Dystopian-Science-Fiction-Novel-With-A-Love-Triangle coming along?” only to have everyone turn, stunned, to ask, “How did you know?”  (I’m no exception, of course.)
So why do the Hugos have no “Best YA Novel” category?
The Hugos need a YA category, for two reasons: first and most importantly, it helps the Hugos to stay relevant to the next generation of readers. They’re going to charge ahead with or without us, so putting a “Hugo Nominee: Best YA Novel” on the front cover will help kids to learn that the Hugos can pick some pretty damn good books.  If and when they feel like reading more adult fiction, there’s a good chance they’ll remember that Hugo name and start checking out the adult fiction.
And if not, well, the Hugo will lose some luster. The next generation of readers is going to go ahead with or without them.  But why not be inclusive?  Why not nominate YA authors, who will tell their fans they’ll be attending WorldCon, which will encourage a younger audience to attend WorldCon to see them?  Hopefully, they’ll even become a part of the WorldCon culture, thus combating the endless complaints about science fiction’s graying fan base.
The other reason is that, just as it does for “adult” books, a Hugo nomination can give a boost to novels that haven’t received the attention they should have.  The goal of the Hugos (and yes, I know, it doesn’t always succeed) is to spotlight the best books, and in doing so hopefully to point people at them – in the process, giving the authors a useful sales boost that often allows them to write even more and better books.  Having a category that would allow some underpublicized YA books to shine can only be a good thing.
The biggest problem with a “Best YA Novel,” of course, is that it risks becoming a ghetto.  A nomination for YA means that you can’t win the “big” prize of “Best Novel” – so past winners like Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” (2009) and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2001) would be “reduced” to the YA category. As someone who’s been pulling for Pixar to win a “Best Picture” Oscar, it’s a valid concern.
At the same time, though, how many YA books are actually ascending to the “Best Novel” category as it is?  You have the occasional breakthroughs like “Zoe’s Tale” and “Little Brother,” but those are mostly works by authors who are already prominent in “adult” speculative fiction.  Where are the Westerfelds, the Collins, the Larbalestiers, the Pierces, the Blacks, the Goulds, the Nixes?
With five nominations, we can start spotlighting books that are YA-specific, and bring authors in that field to the wider attention of the Hugo crowd – because dammit, man, the stuff being done in YA right now is good. It’s a win-win, where the current Hugo fan base gets to look at some most excellent fiction, and the YA fan base gets to think of the Hugos as something relevant to their interests, and the Hugos get to look at the rising fanbase of What Is To Come and go, “Yes, we’re a part of this.”
The best thing is, the Nebulas have already done it.  They have the Andre Norton award – an award that helped build buzz on Catherynne M. Valente’s online work “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland,” which later went on to become a New York Times bestseller.  In other words, the Andre Norton award took a good book that could use some recognition and spotlighted it, helping the author and bringing it to wider attention.
Which is why we need a “Best YA Novel” category.  And we need it soon.

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