I was really excited to be included in the blog tour for In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby. I’ve read Nicole’s other work, Hurrican Season last year and absolutely loved it, so I had to pick this one up too. In the Role of Brie Hutchens… will be released on June 30, 2020.
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.
About In the Role of Brie Hutchens…
Nicole Melleby’s debut novel Hurricane Season was called “a story full of hope, art, and love” by R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder, and “an important debut” by Eliot Schrefer, author of Endangered. In her second novel, In the Role of Brie Hutchens…Melleby once again delivers a beautifully written story, taking the reader on a journey with Brie as she wrestles with her sexuality and her faith. Finding oneself is difficult for every middle schooler, but especially for
those who worry that the self they might find is a “self” others won’t like. Melleby handles these topics in a way that is blunt—Brie Hutchens doesn’t mince words—yet sensitive, delivering another absolute must read for any middle grade reader.
Soap opera super-fan Brie Hutchens dreams of going to a performing arts high school and becoming an actress. But Brie’s plans to convince her parents of her talent are thrown out the window when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at inappropriate pictures of her favorite actress online. To distract her, Brie blurts that she has been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her Catholic School’s May Crowning ceremony. It works: Brie’s mom is suitably proud. But Brie’s in big trouble. She has not been chosen—no one has yet. Desperate to make her lie true, Brie turns to the best student she knows, Kennedy, to help her write the prize-winning essay. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Brie isn’t sure how to talk to her mom, or the mother of God, for that matter, but she can’t change the way she feels about Kennedy. Juggling her new emotions with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, Brie wants more than anything to stop lying, stop hiding, and just be herself. She wants to be seen, even if that means standing center-stage under a spotlight.
Inspired by her own experience balancing faith with sexuality, Melleby strove “to write a story that shows there is no one “coming out moment.” That “moment” happens often, and frequently.” Melleby uses her insight to explore the most complex and important relationships in young people’s lives, spinning “a story that will engage middle-grade readers who enjoy thoughtful novels that address complex topics” (School Library Journal).
While Brie is funny, dramatic, and undoubtably confused, she is also perceptive and thoughtful. Brie’s story is one that every middle-grade reader can learn from and, frankly, every parent, too.
This is completely different from Nicole’s first book, Hurricane Season, and not in a bad way. Where Hurricane Season felt like discovery with difficult times and heartbreak, In the Role of Brie Hutchens took a more comical approach while still covering self-discovery.
Brie is really into Soap Operas and at the beginning of each chapter there is a brief description of a scene that somewhat relates to what is happening in that chapter. I loved this added touch. Reading each one of these was interesting, especially when I’ve actually watched that scene when it aired. I also related to Brie in that I use to watch soaps with my mother and grandmother when I was a kid (and into my teen and adult years). That added nostalgia really allowed me to connect with Brie.
Brie as a character felt a lot older than she actually was, but at the same time didn’t. Let me attempt at explaining this. There were moments where she would explain something and it felt so teen and logical that I found myself wondering if I ever had that kind of clarity and ability to expression myself that way as a tween – the answer is no by the way lol. However, I found Brie likeable and some of her reactions made sense. She had a good friendship with her boy-crazy friend and a good relationship with her other friend that played hockey – although she didn’t seem to have anything in common with them I still felt it was a realistic friendship for that age. Brie felt brave and dramatic, without ever feeling completely over the top. There were times she did something wrong and would, eventually, admit to that and admitted to the fact that it was hard to be honest.
Her friends and love interest did not get much development in this story, and I’m completely ok with that. They weren’t the focus or the important part of the story, but they were needed to show how Brie was handling things in her daily life. Even with their brief relation to the story, I still felt like they were people and I could picture them in school (and even pinpoint people in my childhood that could represent them).
I loved the struggle Brie had between her discovery of sexuality and her family’s religion. There is a clear disconnect between religion and Brie and I found that completely believable. Even if Brie wasn’t exploring her sexuality, which is usually looked down on in strick religions, I believe Brie would still be feeling this disconnect. She sees her mother’s devotion and just can’t seem to find that herself. I also felt a connection with Brie and her relationship with her mom. To not feel like her mom liked her or understood her is something I remember thinking when I was a tween/teen. I still believe that now – there are parts of myself that my mom would not accept if ever vocalized and there are things I enjoy that my mom doesn’t believe is normal for someone my age. However, I do believe that Brie and her mom have a way of coming back and understanding and that was what I was rooting for during this entire book.
Now, I said earlier that it wasn’t as heartbreaking as Hurricane Season – this is true, but that doesn’t mean that there is no heartache. There were moments where I teared up and felt a lump in my throat from the emotion written on the pages. Brie does not have an easy go throughout this book – but you never felt like she was unsafe. And I would say that is the reason for it not getting a full 5 stars. I never felt like there was any real stakes, that no matter what this was a true happy ending style of book (and there is nothing wrong with that). I wanted a little more depth and a little more push into stacks and emotional impact.
I believe this book is for anyone trying to discover their sexuality, and especially so if they are within a religious context. This hits its demographic (10 years +) very well. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for more middle grade LGBTQIA+ books or anyone who wants to read more of Nicole’s work – it does not disappoint.
Thank you Nicole and Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with a copy.
“Melleby (Hurricane Season) paints Brie as a recognizable teen: authentic in her self-centeredness and sympathetic in her attempts to embrace her identity. Brie’s anxiety over her faith, as well as how to come out to her loved ones, is wrenching and genuine in this accomplished, leisurely paced read.”
—Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“The story honestly conveys Brie’s confusion about her sexuality, while at the same time, moves plotlines to the next level by also delving into the way the family’s Catholicism affects events. Younger teens questioning their sexuality—or faith—will find much to ponder here.”
“Chapter openings describing events from soap operas—the one strong interest she shares with her mom—underscore how dramatic the events feel to Brie, as well as the fact that, though she’s realized something new about herself, she’s still the same person.”
—The Horn Book
“Her struggles and those of her family seem authentic, their interactions realistic, and Brie’s desire to be really seen and loved for who she is will ring true with many, middle school readers.”
—School Library Journal