It's To Be Read Tuesday! It's been a weird year for Pride--well, it's been a weird year for events and books and life. Our collective attention has been on other things, and when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, I think that should have our focus right now.
Still, I want to share with you a brand-new Middle Grade novel with a lesbian protagonist, out today with Algonquin Young Readers.
Nicole Melleby is fast becoming one of my favorite Own Voices queer Kidlit authors.
Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera superfan, 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.
I loved Hurricane Season so I was excited to read Melleby's new novel. In The Role of Brie Hutchens did not disappoint. Brie, our awkward protagonist has big dreams and bigger questions. We follow Brie as she navigates religion, sexuality, and her relationships with her family. Through it all, she has good friends who accept her for who she is. The discovery of her sexuality unfolded naturally and in a highly relatable way for me personally, even though I grew up long before the internet.
“If she said the words out loud…if she told Parker…that would make it all real, wouldn’t it? The things she was feeling and trying to sort out—if she said those words out loud, if she actually told someone…then they would be real. Then they would be true.”
Melleby handles religion with a deft hand, and in no way does this book lessen the importance of religion and spirituality for the reader—it is about finding one's place within her culture, not tearing it down.
One aspect I particularly appreciated was how Melleby didn’t go for the easy answer—everything wasn't tidily resolved.
“God, Brie, I don’t want this for you. No mom wants their child to have to go through life with more difficulty than they have to. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Brie frowned. “This hurts.This is what is hurting me.”
It wasn't about finding a "happy-ever-after-the-end" but rather acknowledges that the protagonist and her family will continue to grow in love and acceptance. Much more realistic yet still satisfying. Get In The Role of Brue Hutchens for your favorite Middle Grade reader through your local library or BookShop and support independent bookstores.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com