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Reading: The Art of Being Ordinary: Cups of Tea and Catching the Bus in Contemporary British YA


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The Art of Being Ordinary: Cups of Tea and Catching the Bus in Contemporary British YA


Alison Waller

About Alison
Alison Waller is Reader at the University of Roehampton, London, and a member of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature. Her publications include Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism (Routledge 2009) and Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics (Bloomsbury 2019), and she is Principle Investigator of the ‘Reading for Normal: Young People and Fiction in the Time of Covid-19’ project. She is also General Editor for The International Journal of Young Adult Literature.
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Young adult novels are full of ordinary things and everyday actions, and these “reality effects”, to use Roland Barthes’ term, can help to build the meaningful connective tissue against which textual adolescents exist. This article examines contemporary British realist YA in order to understand the cultural work it does in creating ordinary worlds its readers can recognise. It shows how narratives produce a shared backdrop of lived experience that can nonetheless reveal certain socio-economic and ethnic differences. Paying attention to the mundane and routine is also posited as a method for locating YA fiction within a much broader literary and cultural context than usual. Existing YA scholarship has tended to focus on ontological questions about extraordinary fictional teenagers and how they are constructed according to universal frameworks of ‘normal’. This article instead demonstrates how textual teenagers are also situated by the common realities of everyday life in ways that need to be understood as specifically inflected by national conditions. It examines two tropes of ‘ordinariness’ – cups of tea and bus journeys – in a range of British YA standalone novels from the last decade, including work by Holly Bourne, Ally Kennen, Muhammad Khan, Patrice Lawrence, Nikesh Shukla, and Lisa Williamson. In doing so, it unpacks the rich cultural meanings and functions that are at play via these apparently non-symbolic textual features, and argues that, although tea and buses often act as reassuring markers of the ordinary, in some cases they represent a narrative mode that can actually question the status quo.

How to Cite: Waller, A., 2020. The Art of Being Ordinary: Cups of Tea and Catching the Bus in Contemporary British YA. The International Journal of Young Adult Literature, 1(1). DOI:
Published on 02 Nov 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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