Review of In the Role of Brie Hutchens...

In the Role of Brie Hutchens…
by Nicole Melleby
Middle School    Algonquin    265 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-61620-907-0    $16.95

When the novel opens, thirteen-year-old Brie’s mother almost stumbles upon Brie looking at a soap opera star’s Playboy photos online. Brie distracts her mom by claiming (falsely) that she’s been chosen to perform an important role at the May Crowning mass, an honor for an eighth grader in her Catholic school. Brie must then attempt to earn that honor (by winning an essay contest) and hopes that by doing so, she’ll come closer to the image Mom wants for her. But Brie’s own personality and interests diverge from what her family expects, from her impulsivity to her less-than-strong attachment to religion to her aspiration to attend a performing arts school next year; this last also brings up financial issues in a family where her father works as the school janitor. Her parents’ first hint that Brie is questioning her sexuality — more online searching, this time for “LGBTQ soap opera scenes” — comes in the novel’s first half, which leaves space for varied and evolving reactions and for acknowledgment that acceptance can take time, but shouldn’t take forever. 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.

From the March/April 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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