In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby
Published: Algonquin Young Readers (April 21st 2020)
Genre: middle grade; contemporary
Rep: sapphic (probably lesbian) mc & li
Rating: 4/5 🍑
ARC provided by the publisher.
This book was an emotional punch straight to the heart, in all the best (gay) ways. It’s also very clearly an ownvoices story and that truth shines through every page and settles this specific kind of calm over the reader.
The story itself is pretty simple (a teen start figuring out her sexuality & the world doesn’t make it easy for her), but it’s not the dry outline that makes a book, is it? It’s the emotions all the events bring, it’s the character’s journey, her path to growing up & fighting for herself.
Because, you see, Brie has to struggle with a lot. She goes to a Catholic school where a boy got suspended for just googling gay stuff on his phone. Her mother is very religious and devoted to Virgin Mary, whereas Brie has trouble even focusing during mass. The family has financial problems and Brie dreams of going to a private acting high school, which would help her become an actress. She’s experiencing her first crush, while listening to her best friend talking excitedly about a different boy every day. And on top of all that, she’s a kid in eight grade.
So much packed into one book, so much trusted on a shoulder of a kid who’s just trying to figure out how to be herself.
My favourite aspect of the book is definitely Brie’s relationship with her mother, though. It starts already a bit strained, with Brie wondering if her mom even likes her, and as Brie gets more and more sure she’s not straight, that relationship only gets worse. I do not mean to say I enjoyed watching Brie navigate her life without that vital support that her mother should have been offering – quite the opposite really. But the way it was framed, it was obvious this is a story for LGBT audience, for kids who also don’t have perfect parents & who need someone to tell them that “hey, you should put yourself first, your mom should love you unconditionally”.
And while Brie’s mom did not know how to deal with her daughter (and the narrative was clear on the fact it’s not her who should be dealing with anything), Brie had a number of supportive people around her. This is not a dark, hopeless story in any capacity. Which is another thing I deeply appreciate: showing that even if your own family doesn’t accept you, there are others who will.
In the Role of Brie Hutchens isn’t just a gay coming-out story, even though that’s a major plot point. It’s a story of a delicate phase of adolescence, of looking for acceptance & reassurance, of figuring out what kind of person you want to be when you grow up.
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.
Are you a fan of middle grade books?
What are your favourites?