I didn’t have as much time to discuss this with the agent before he left as I would have desired. I gathered that he had identified the things that might cause an editor to hesitate, and wanted to be able to honestly say that the novel had been read and reviewed by readers in the age group. Since the story depends on these things, it’s important to be able to say that they went down easily.
The responses to the first batch of queries showed a resistance to the concept, so I’m inclined to play it safe, too.
I agree that publishers tend to evaluate a novel by comparing it to similar novels that made money. I would never write anything commercial that was truly original unless I was dating the publisher’s daughter, and I’m much too old for that.