I've said it before, I'll say it again: young adult literature predicts the future.
No, I don't mean the FUTURE-future, like the actual events in The Hunger Games. Maybe we really will end up with a totalitarian government that stupefies its populace by forcing its teenagers to participate in games of senseless, exploitative violence.
But the predictions I'm talking about are the ones about the future of pop culture.
Last year, I argued that the success of break-out gay teen characters like those on the TV show Glee was predicted almost a decade earlier by the unexpected success of my first book, the gay teen novel Geography Club, in 2003, and a bunch of other gay teen novels that found similarly unexpected success that same year.
Here's my thesis: for over a decade now, young adult literature has been in the midst of a fantastic creative renaissance where authors and publishers are encouraged to push limits and take chances. Plus, the lower production costs of books in general allows publishers to take these risks.
And then there's the fact that, ahem, we young adult authors can be a pretty smart, prescient bunch. After all, it's literally our job to predict what issues teenagers will find interesting and relevant in the years ahead. That's how we sell books!
The success of The Hunger Games books, and now the movies, is proving my theory yet again.
It used to be publishing "conventional wisdom" that boys wouldn't read books that feature strong girls in leading roles.
As a teen book author, I've known that that's mostly been bunk for a while now. First, that's just not how many teen boys think anymore. Today's teenagers don't see gender the way previous generations did: the idea of boys and girls being platonic friends isn't just not weird, it's the absolute norm. It's just the way most teenagers now relate to each other.
Gender stereotypes obviously still exist, but (I think) this is by far the least sexist generation of all time.
And second (as much as this pains me to say): boys are now pretty much irrelevant to the success of most young adult novels anyway. Increasingly, the genre is primarily being driven by female authors -- and, more importantly, female readers. (Indeed, this is becoming true for almost all literary genres, except maybe literary fiction.) Sadly, most boys are playing video games, not reading books.
The point is, anyone familiar with the YA genre knows that for at least a decade now, strong female characters have been the norm in YA literature. (Twilight, with its boring, passive, guy-obsessed Bella, is an exception to this rule, not the rule itself.)
But from Hollywood, I've heard almost nothing but the old, stupid conventional wisdom I used to hear from publishers: boys won't go to movies or watch TV shows staring strong leading female characters.
Bah! That simply isn't true anymore! It hasn't been true for a decade or more.
But Hollywood couldn't see it. They could've given us strong female movie leads on their own, but they didn't, or they did so only very, very sparingly.
Instead, it took a young adult novel to force Hollywood to give us such movie characters. The Hunger Games was so popular, and so obviously perfect to be adapted for film, that Hollywood simply had no choice but to put a strong female in an action movie lead.
Now it's a huge, huge hit, a major movie franchise that will dominate pop culture for years to come.
All of us who labor in young adult literature could have predicted this: in fact, we did predict it! These strong-female stories are exactly the kinds of books we've been writing for decades.
But up until the very end, Hollywood couldn't see it. The optimistic prediction was that The Hunger Games movie would gross $90 million, not the record-setting $155 million it ended up grossing. These eye-popping numbers violated their conventional wisdom, so they simply couldn't be true.
My greater point remains: if you want to know where the greater pop culture is going, don't look to Hollywood movies or television. They're reactive, not predictive.
No, look to young adult books. We'll tell you where society is going, not where it's already gone.