Review | In the Role of Brie Hutchens

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AUTHOR: In the Role of Brie Hutchens
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Middle grade
GENRE: Contemporary
RELEASE: June 30, 2020
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Young Readers
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.   Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.

Eighth grader Brie Hutchens dreams of being an actor on one of her beloved soap operas, and just knows that landing a role in the school play and convincing her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school will get her there. Brie is also starting to have some confusing feels about some of the leading ladies on her soaps, and when her mom walks in on her looking at some less-than-appropriate pictures of one of them, she panics and lies: Brie tells her mom that she’ll be crowning the Mary statue at her Catholic school’s upcoming ceremony. Her distraction works, but now Brie’s got to juggle the school play with trying to win the crowning role, which pits her against class know-it-all Kennedy. As Brie juggles secrets and lies, she also tries to figure out her own feelings about herself, Kennedy, and her family. 

In the Role of Brie Hutchens was such a sweet coming of age story that has easily become one of my favorite middle grade books of the year; it’s a cute, adorable, authentic, and heart-felt addition to the sapphic middle grade cannon. Brie is figuring out that she’s queer and is struggling to come out to her parents, who are committed Catholics, and to her best friend, who only seems to want to talk about boys. Her sexuality in the context of a religious community is an experience that so many young readers will connect with, and it was such a gentle, sensitive portrayal of identity and faith. Brie has a sweet relationship with her mom—the two of them love watching soap operas together—and Brie is terrified of what coming out will do to that relationship. 

Brie is hilarious, genuine, and so relatable. She’s just trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. Rivals-turned-crush is always a fun trope, and I loved seeing Brie’s feelings for Kennedy morph from annoyance to warm fuzzies. It was such a sweet story of first crushes, and how they change us. Brie’s mother and father were also important additions to the story and I so appreciated that they were complex, loving, and flawed parents who didn’t always know exactly what to say. Brie and her family are white, and there were mentions of supporting and background characters of color. 

I was never a soap opera watcher, but Brie’s obsession gave me a newfound respect for them! She dreams of becoming a soap actress, and soap operas are where she finds her confidence and her courage to embrace her identity. Her passion for soaps truly had me both laughing out loud and crying, and then looking up Days of Our Lives clips on YouTube. I love that Nicole Melleby makes sure her readers know that soap operas are legitimate forms of storytelling, and that no one should be shamed for liking them. 

In the Role of Brie Hutchens was truly a sweet and memorable #OwnVoices story of queerness, identity, faith, and family. It’s a pitch-perfect story about learning to see yourself and demanding that the rest of the world sees you too. Brie is thirteen and on the cusp of high school, making this book a perfect bridge for readers outgrowing middle grade but not quite ready for YA. Brie was silly, dramatic, vulnerable, and downright real. This book should be in every middle school and public library collection; I’ll be recommending it to readers who enjoyed Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee, Redwood & Ponytail by K.A. Holt, and Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy. Fans of Ashley Herring Blake and Alex Gino will also adore this book. I’ll definitely be watching out for future books from Nicole Melleby, and in the meantime, reading her backlist title Hurricane Season—if it has as much heart as In the Role of Brie Hutchens, I know i’ll love it.

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for the free review copy.

Happy reading! Ari

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