Hello lovelies! Today, I am lucky enough to be participating on the blog tour for In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, which is officially one of my new favorite middle grade books.
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.
Diversity rep: non-straight main character and major character, Black minor character
Warnings: homophobia, casual racism
I adored this novel, and here’s why:
🌈 Meaningful discussion of coming out through the lens of a middle schooler
In the Role of Brie Hutchens… chronicles Brie’s coming out experience in a way that is hopeful but also doesn’t sugarcoat. Melleby explores Brie’s hardships beautifully, from the realization that coming out isn’t just a one-time event, to the hurt inflicted by heteronormativity, to the complicated relationship between Brie and her Mom.
🌈 Exploration of family relationships
Speaking of Brie’s mom—she made me SO mad, but their relationship was complex, and she wasn’t a one-dimensional “villain” parent or anything like that.
Still, watching the way she treated Brie was heartbreaking, and I was so so happy when Brie called her out. (I ended up getting pretty attached to a lot of the characters, so I felt kinda like a proud big sister.)
The novel also delves into Brie’s relationship with her dad, who has just lost his job and is working as a janitor at her school. His complicity in the way Brie was treated by her mom is angering, but I did feel for him as well.
Brie has a brother, Trevor, as well, and though I did enjoy the sibling relationship, I was left wanting a bit more substance out of it.
🌈 Intersection of sexuality and religion
Brie is a closeted student at a Catholic school, and I liked reading the exploration of religion that came out of that. The author critiques homophobia within Catholocism while still maintaining that homophobia is not the norm for all Catholics, that there is a wide diversity of thought within religion. (I adored the teachers at Brie’s school. English and theater teachers ftw)
Additionally, the novel portrays Brie’s conflicted relationship with her faith that I think will resonate with a lot of kids who have grown up religious and are questioning what religion means to them. (I certainly found it relatable, and I also very much enjoyed the joke about the taste of communion bread.)
🌈 Realistic and endearing minor characters
Brie is in eighth grade, and the characters and the classroom scenes felt pretty realistic to me (as someone who was in middle school fairly recently).
I also enjoyed Brie’s friends immensely. Her friendship with Parker was SO wholesome. I loved how Parker played matchmaker and was completely unfazed by Brie’s coming out, and I think that the more kids see these sorts of friendships in books, the better equipped they’ll be to empathize with and show kindness to their own friends and classmates.
I also loved Brie’s friend Wallace, who was sooo sweet, and the dynamic between Brie and her love interest was adorable as well.
🌈 Passionate protagonist
I loved how passionate Brie was about soap operas and acting, and how soap operas were explored as representative of Brie’s connection to her mom. At the beginning of each chapter, the author included little snippets from various soaps, such as General Hospital and All My Children, which I enjoyed despite never having watched any of the shows. They gave me a window into Brie’s thought process while being accessible to non-soap opera fans like myself.
This upper-middle grade is one of my new favorites of the genre. It’s honest and emotional (I cried a little bit) and so important. The book has been marketed as ownvoices, and the authenticity felt apparent to me when reading—though I would definitely recommend reading this ownvoices review from Anna @ Readsrainbow.
I was so proud of Brie and her growth by the end of the novel, and I think readers of all ages will enjoy rooting for her as they tag along on her journey. As a reader of primarily YA, the content of this middle grade had crossover appeal for me, and I would definitely recommend this one to middle schoolers and older readers as well.
Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied
creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and
literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll consider picking up In the Role of Brie Hutchens… (It releases today!) Let me know in the comments—what are some of your favorite middle grade books? Are you planning on reading this one? How was middle school for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Many thanks to Algonquin Young Readers for including me on this blog our and for providing me with a review copy of In the Role of Brie Hutchens… in exchange for my honest review!