Title: In the Role of Brie Hutchens…
Author: Nicole Melleby
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 272
I loved this book! It was even better than How to Become a Planet, which was one of the better middle grade books I’ve read this year. Brie was an awesome character and it was a pleasure to get to know her, and this book had all the ups and downs of surviving adolescence while trying to figure out your identity.
In the Role of Brie Hutchens… is about the titular character, a Catholic schoolgirl who’s obsessed with soap operas. Watching soaps used to be her and her mom’s ‘thing’ to do together but they’ve gradually been becoming more distant as Brie approaches womanhood.
Her family is broke and Brie is embarrassed that her dad works as a maintenance man at her school to make ends meet. She’s also starting to realize she likes girls, especially her ‘perfect’ classmate Kennedy. She isn’t sure her mom will handle it well, and for the most part she doesn’t. I felt like there were times when Brie’s mom was emotionally abusive.
She was pretty awful to her. I loved how flawed Brie was and I empathized with her a lot; when she was going through stress it stressed me out too. She wants to be an actress and the performing arts school she wants to go to costs too much, which causes friction within her family.
Her dad was very good-natured but I kept hoping the mother would be better than she was. She really was kind of a B (I’ve resolved to cuss less in my children’s book reviews in case impressionable kids actually read them and thus learn from my bad example.)
The mother-daughter relationship lies at the center of this book like in How to Become a Planet, but the characters are very different. I liked how every chapter had a recap for a soap opera episode in Brie’s own words (the rest of the book is written in third person.)
Soap operas are a fun and unique thing for a MG protagonist to be interested in. I wonder if this book would make any kids interested in looking up soap operas or asking their parents about them (my mom liked them a lot when I was little.)
The recaps always had something to do with what was happening in the book, especially when it came to Brie and her mom’s relationship. Brie was brave. I especially liked how she did the soap opera ‘coming out’ monologue for the audition, even though her mom reacted terribly to it (did I mention I had some bad feelings towards Brie’s mother? Yup.)
In the Role of Brie Hutchens… was a lot of fun to read, although it could be emotionally heavy at times. The author does a good job exploring the emotions of her young characters and writing gay kids who are just starting to discover their own same-sex attraction. She skillfully manages to avoid melodrama and cliches and writes characters and relationships that ring true. I will absolutely be seeking out Melleby’s work in the future.