Title: In the Role of Brie Hutchens…
Author: Nicole Melleby
Release Date: April 21st 2020
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 (of 58 ratings)
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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.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers through a giveaway. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
I knew I had to read this the moment that I saw it. I mean, I was going to read it anyway, because I loved Nicole Melleby’s first book, Hurricane Season. It was an incredible book that made me cry many times, took an amazing in-depth look into middle grade mental health, and had so much heart that I was convinced of Melleby’s incredible ability to craft a story. But when I saw a lot of my childhood in the summary – the love of soap operas, Catholic school where I never really jelled, and more – I knew that I had to get my grabby hands on it.
What I love the most about Melleby’s writing is the heart that she infuses throughout the story. Even though Brie and I differed in a lot of ways, I saw myself in her, and I connected with her so hard. The story was filled with so much heart, and the characters are sympathetic, real, and dynamic. You see yourself, you see your family, you see your friends, and more in this story. It’s a complex but amazingly vivid cast of characters that just leaves you feeling good even in the darkest parts of the story.
The biggest issue that I had with this book was actually the writing. Melleby has an incredible voice that makes it easy to read and easy to dive in over and over and over again. However, I felt like this book was a bit choppy and disjointed in those beginning pages. It did get far better and into the groove, but I could feel that choppiness hard in the beginning part that kind of had me struggling in the start. But it really does even out again.
I love our main character so much. Brie was an amazing heroine. I totally bonded with her over the love of soap operas, and she feels like a true middle grader instead of an adult trying to write one. She makes a lot of mistakes, but Melleby teaches the lesson of owning up to them and Brie’s journey throughout them. She deals with very real struggles, and you feel her pain, her joy, and more. She really makes this book.
The rest of the characters were good. They all had a lot of side stories happening, and they do round of the rest of the cast. My other gripe with this story was I felt like I wanted a touch more with the side characters. We touch on a little bit with each character, but I would have liked to see a little more development with them – with character like Brie’s brother and Kennedy, who both are mentioned at having struggles as well but aren’t given much time with us to deal with them. But they were all distinct and dynamic, and they did complete a good story.
The story was captivating as well. This is definitely a coming of age story, and focuses a lot on Brie’s mental and emotional journey. She’s discovering who she is in her world, family, faith, and sexuality. It’s a struggle that many kids face, and it’s all relatable and keeps you fascinated. I, of course, loved the soap opera content, since this was my middle grade years (I knew so many of the references!!!), so it was fantastic.
This was my most anticipated read of the year, and overall, it mostly lived up to it. It’s a coming of age story filled with a ton of heart, and I’ll definitely continue to pick up Melleby’s books over and over again.
content warnings: gender discrimination, death, sickness
read this if you: looking for a book embodying magic and one of the most feminist books I’ve ever read
What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments below!