Blog Tour Book Review: In the Role of Brie Hutchens
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.
This was such a beautiful and heart-wrenchingly written book. Brie’s struggle with both her sexuality and her faith is so relatable, and Melleby is really incredible at showing us Brie’s confusion, frustration, and the emotional journey she’s on. At 13, Brie’s got a lot going on. She’s in 8th grade, she’s developed feelings for the know-it-all girl in class, her father has lost his job and now works maintenance at her school, her parents are struggling financially, and she’s desperately trying to connect with her mom.
I particularly resonated with Brie’s strained relationship with her mom – that desperation to please her and always coming up short, the feeling that her while sure, her mother loves her, she doesn’t really like her, and the fear that if her mom knew who she was – who she really was – she wouldn’t even love her either. The one thing they had in common was their love of soap operas, but as their relationship becomes increasingly strained throughout the course of the book, even that commonality falls to the wayside.
Brie’s not sure how to talk to anyone about her sexuality, or the questions she has about faith, and so those questions come out in small bursts here and there to various people, and part of Brie’s journey is realizing that coming out isn’t a one-time occurrence – it happens again and again. And that can be utterly exhausting, especially when the people you care about the most don’t react the way you hoped they would. Or they react exactly how you feared they would.
I though the soap opera angle was cute, and really fit in with how dramatic Brie is. She wants to be a soap star when she grows up, and she’s pretty singular-minded in that focus. At first, I found Brie’s self-involvement rather annoying (though probably pretty accurate for a 13-year-old), but one of Melleby’s gifts is creating an authentic – and at times painful to watch – character arc of growth and realization.
This isn’t a meet-cute novel with a happily ever after ending full of sunshine and roses. In fact, Brie ends up with way more questions than answers by the end of it, I’d say. But that’s part of why I love Melleby’s writing so much – because it shows the messiness of life in such a genuine way.
There were a few things I didn’t like about the book, or wished had been executed better. The pacing is super slow for a Middle Grade novel, and contains more self-reflection and internal dialogue than MG novels usually have. The supporting characters really aren’t fleshed out at all. Brie’s best friends, Parker and Wallace, don’t have any depth to them. Parker is boy crazy and that is the only thing she talks about. Wallace likes sports and is one of only three black kids in class. And that’s the extent of what we learn about them. Brie’s brother has no personality whatsoever, other than “sullen teenager.”
Brie’s crush, Kennedy, is a know-it-all perfectionist who always raises her hand in class. In the final couple chapters of the book, we finally learn more about why Kennedy is this way, but because it doesn’t come out until the very end, it’s not explored at all. Part of the reason for this is because Brie is so narcissistic that it never occurs to her that Kennedy – or anyone else for that matter – has their own internal struggles they’re dealing with. When she starts to realize this, all of a sudden the other characters have issues she notices, too. It would have been nice if the readers could have seen those additional personality characteristics in the supporting characters throughout the story, even if Brie couldn’t.
Though these issues distracted me from the story, I still highly recommend the book. It’s thoughtful, creative, and nuanced. It’s an important book, not just for kids who are starting to wrestle with questions on sexuality and faith, but for their parents, too. Brie’s parents don’t react well at all when they find out she likes girls, but their journey of learning and growth is an important exploration in the book as well, and one I think a lot of parents (especially those who are very religious) can learn from.
This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.
Photo by Alisa Williams.