Sunday, July 05, 2020

In the Role of Brie Hutchens

Melleby, Nicole. In the Role of Brie Hutchens
April 21st 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Brie attends a Catholic school. Her father, who has recently lost his job, is working there as a custodian to help with her tuition, and her mother is picking up extra shifts so the family can stay afloat financially. It's the end of 8th grade, and Brie is struggling. She doesn't do well academically, but is very interested in attending a local arts school for high school instead of the public school her family can afford. Since her mother is frequently home in the afternoons, between shifts, it is their bonding time to watch soap operas, and Brie really enjoys them, as well as feeling close to her mother. When she is looking up one of the soap actresses on line and finds unclothed pictures, her mother comes into the room. In a panic (because she is enjoying the pictures more than she feels she should), she tells her mother that she earned the role of crowing Mary at the May festival. Since her mother is very religious, this distracts her, but also gets Brie caught in a lie she must perpetuate. In order to crown Mary, students must win an essay contest, and Brie knows that the somewhat annoyingly perfect Kennedy will get the part. But Kennedy is... cute. And nice. Brie finds her feelings are very confused, and she starts to realize that she doesn't really like boys, but Kennedy makes her feel pleasantly flustered. Brie makes an effort to improve her school work, especially her writing, but also plans to get in to the school play in order to convince her parents that she should go to the performing arts school. This isn't completely successful-- she gets the role of Dopey. Brie's best friend, Parker, is supportive of Brie's crush on Kennedy, but when she tries to tell her mother, she pretends not to recognize the reality. Brie's father is uncomfortable, but tries to be supportive. Things with Kennedy are equally complicated. Will Brie be able to win the essay contest, solidify things with Kennedy, and make her parents understand and love the person she wants to be?
Strengths: There aren't many books set in Catholic schools, so it was interesting to see descriptions of religion classes and weekly chapel, as well as uniforms. The family's financial insecurity was handled in a no-nonsense fashion. Brie's desire to act contrasts nicely with the role she gets, and her struggle with the concept of "there are no so small parts, only small actors" was realistic. Not everyone in school plays is the star. While it would be nice to see more LGBTQIA+ stories that are not centered on coming out, middle grade stories do by necessity often show a dawning realization of sexuality. It was pleasantly surprising that Brie found a teacher and friend who was supportive of her coming out at a Catholic school. The Catholic church is an uncomfortable place for many people. The parents' reaction is also nuanced and believable.
Weaknesses: I doubt my students are at all familiar with soap operas, so this made the book seem dated. Are there any still on? Also, Brie is a very selfish character who was hard to like. She knows that her parents are struggling and working hard, but ignores this in pursuit of her own agenda and then wants her parents to be supportive of her.
What I really think: I will purchase this because my students are interested in LGBTQIA+ stories, but this was not a personal favorite because of the soap opera descriptions and acting dreams. I still wish more middle grade characters wanted to be mechanical engineers or computer programmers instead of actors, writers, singers, and sports stars.

Ms. Yingling

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