In the Role of Brie Hutchens...
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, yet. 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.
At her school, she feels a disconnect from her faith, mainly because she is realizing that she is gay, and she isn't sure what that means for her religion or her relationship with her parents. When her mom walks in on her viewing some scandalous photos of one of her favorite soap stars, Brie tells a lie that she knows will distract her mother and make her proud. However, the lie builds, and when the truth she is trying to hide appears, it seems it is swept under the rug. Brie would do anything to have her family accept and love her for all of her truths, but she is not sure how to get there.
What I loved: This middle grade book is really a great coming out story. It does not all go smoothly, and Brie has a lot of challenges that she has made for herself, but it's truly heartfelt and genuine. Readers who may be dealing with the same situation will find pieces of themselves in Brie's story. The process is all too real (over and over again) with reactions running the gamut. Brie is passionate and still learning, and her story is overall full of angst and charm.
There is also an age-appropriate romance, and I liked how this was done. It's a tough time in life to be figuring out romantic relationships in general, and it all felt very real. The book gives a lot of hope that is fantastic for young readers that this book targets.
There are also the aspects of parent relationships that will speak to middle grade readers. Things are changing, and children begin to realize more about their parents- their imperfections and the ways that they impact their feelings. Brie has a lot of feelings about both of her parents, who she relates to in different ways. She is also beginning to have a concept of money and its importance that seems age appropriate.
Final verdict: Overall, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS... is a captivating and charming middle grade contemporary. Would recommend for fans of DEAR SWEET PEA, THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK, and A SONG FOR A WHALE.