Released: June 2020
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
“A nuanced exploration of how to reconcile faith and identity. Melleby’s clear, honest voice expertly captures the frustration, awkwardness, and fear of being vulnerable—as well as the potential rewards…This funny, tender, and heart-wrenching story will have readers calling for an encore.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
From the publisher:
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 undoubtedly 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.
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.
Last year I was privileged enough to be given the chance to review Nicole Melleby’s debut novel, Hurricane Season. Stunning cover aside, it was a moving book that I have been telling everyone and their mother they need to read. Well, Melleby has absolutely done it again with In The Role of Brie Hutchens…
Sometimes when I’m indulging myself on what my life would have been like if I’d made different choices, I wish I could start over as a kid knowing what I know now. Then I remember what middle school was like and I usually end up physically recoiling at the thought of ever going through that period of my life again. Once was more than enough for me.
Being a teenager is very hard and often being a teenage girl is even harder- especially when you’re about to go into high school. Everything is just so confusing and the world seems like it’s constantly changing, bringing new challenges and emotions that you’ve never had to face before. And, if you were like me, you were also dealing with the dark underworld of the “mean girls'” societal politics. To then have to battle the things Brie was dealing with on top of it all… let’s just say she had a lot on her young shoulders.
I was lucky that my home life was relatively stable so all my energies were generally focused on my homework and the all-consuming middle school drama. Parents do their best to shield their children from the harsher realities of what it takes to keep a household going, and while my own parents didn’t let on about any financial or personal problems they were dealing with, in Brie’s case the cracks were definitely beginning to show. It’s hard to understand as a child or a teenager that sometimes your parents can’t give you everything they want to and that at the end of the day your parents are just normal human beings with their own demons. It’s kind of like when you find out in kindergarten that your teacher doesn’t actually live at your school.
Brie certainly learned the hard way that not only can your parents not always give you the material things you want, but sometimes they can’t give you the emotional support you crave either. My heart broke for this vivacious girl as she tried to find her place both at school and within her own home. While I could never truly understand what Brie was going through in terms of discovering her sexuality and discussing it with the people in her life, I could still sympathize and root for her. So many times I wanted to reach into the book, squeeze her hand, and tell her, “It’s going to be okay, Brie.”
While a couple of plot lines were left up in the air by the book’s conclusion, it was overall a heartwarming ending to a delightful story. I do secretly hope there is a sequel so we find out what is next for Brie, but if there isn’t one then this definitely holds up as a fantastic standalone novel.
Melleby has a great talent for writing easy to digest YA/middle-grade books that are immersive and engaging. While aimed for younger readers, older readers will find themselves losing themselves in the stories, too. I adored Melleby’s last book and ended up enjoying this one nearly as much. She’s an exciting, important voice that I will be keeping an eye on and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
As I was reading Brie Hutchens, I kept thinking how incredible it is for there to be books like this out there. Other kids going through the confusing things Brie was facing have somewhere to look to now, somewhere to see a character in a story that’s just like them. They will be able to see that they aren’t alone and that they are struggling with things that others struggle with too. Books like this are so important and I applaud the author and publisher for putting these stories out there.
Now, before I end this review, I would be remiss if I left out the heavy influence soap operas had on this novel. I’ve never been a major soap opera watcher (unless you count what we saw of Moira Rose in “Sunrise Bay”), but you don’t need to be a soaps enthusiast to appreciate their place within Brie’s life. These shows were one of the few ways she could connect with her mother and they were also a way to connect with the thoughts and feelings overwhelming her. To see how storylines and characters helped her come to grips with her life, I ended up wondering if maybe I’ve been missing out all these years by not watching soaps.
One day I might just join you in an afternoon binge sesh, Brie, so keep a seat on the sofa for me! I’ll bring the Pop-Tarts.
About the Author:
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.
Praise for In the Role of Brie Hutchens…:
“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
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I feel honored to have been able to read another outstanding publication from Nicole Melleby.
5 thoughts on “Blog Tour: In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby”
Sounds like a great read and definitely perfect for Pride month. I just love when you really care for a character!
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Nicole Melleby is such an incredible author, I’ve been so impressed with everything of hers I’ve read. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. I love that these books exist for young people (and adult readers too!)
This is such an important intersection for young reads (and adult readers, really)…that intersection of faith and sexuality. Thanks for this thorough review.
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It really is. Her previous book was just as impressive, focusing on sexuality and mental health. It’s incredible that she’s writing these books for young people.
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