- A page-turning "high concept."
- A controversial issue of the day.
- A setting against the backdrop of an important time or place in history.
- A main character ejected from his/her childhood home/country/Promised Land (e.g., Tara).
- High information about a topic the reader likely knows little about (nuclear subs, the Holy Grail).
- A secret society
- City mouse vs. Country mouse
- Grappling with one's concept of a higher power
- The American Dream (or nightmare)
- Rebels, misfits, loners -- characters who feel out of place among their peers
- Broken families
To be honest, most novels that I can think of aimed at kids over the age of 8 or 9 seem to meet at least half of these criteria. Numbers 10 and 11 seem almost universal.
What do you think? --Jeanne Marie