I’m so thrilled to have Nicole Melleby back on the site today, especially after reading the wonderful In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, their new heartwarming, adorable, romantic, and soap opera-centric Middle Grade contemporary set at a Catholic School, releasing today from Algonquin Books! Come check out a little more about the book, which made me cry and relive my love for As the World Turns:
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. 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.
And here’s the post! Take it away, Nicole!
To understand why I wrote my second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… you need to know two things about me.
One: I went to Catholic school.
From kindergarten through 8th grade, I was a St. Mary’s Saint. For high school, I was a Mater Dei Seraph.
(We didn’t know what a Seraph was at first either.)
I wore a school uniform. My only two detentions were actually because of that uniform. One because my skirt was rolled too short (we all rolled our skirts; you only got caught if it was less than two inches from your fingertips.) Two because I had a gray shirt on under my blouse instead of a white one.
Yeah, I know.
This was also a school that banned Harry Potter because JK Rowling was a satanist.
The girls wore boxers under their skirts, to keep the guys from looking up them as we climbed the stairs. Senior year, we got to wear pants…as a privilege. Those privileges could be taken away.
They often were threatened to be taken away.
We went to church every week, which was only exciting because on those days, we came back from mass to shortened class periods. There was only so much the teachers could do in twenty minutes.
Sometimes we cut class and hung out in the chapel. You couldn’t get in trouble if you got caught. Not if you said you just needed a moment with Jesus.
I wonder if they thought I needed that many moments with Jesus. They probably wish I took those moments for real now.
Health class consisted of our gym teacher yelling ABSTAIN at us. In class, in the hallways, at school dances.
We didn’t abstain.
We didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything we were doing.
I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything I was feeling.
How could I even begin to explore my sexuality behind walls where they didn’t tell me it was possible?
The second thing you need to know about me is that I. LOVE. Soap Operas.
As a writer, I know what storyline tropes to avoid.
As a soap fan, I know what storyline tropes I absolutely goddamn ADORE.
There’s just something magical about discovering that two characters are pregnant at the same time.
Why? Because there’s definitely a baby swap coming.
If there’s a wedding planned during sweeps month?
It’s definitely going to go up in flames. (And not always metaphorical ones.)
If a beloved character dies? Or a classic villain?
Well, don’t worry too much. They’ll probably be back. Resurrected from the dead, recast with a new actor. (Lots of plastic surgery.)
There’s something so enjoyable about the narration over an old character with a new face, “The role of so and so is now being played by…” as the storyline itself doesn’t miss a single beat.
There’s something awe inspiring (something breathtaking) about a character, in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight, on a show that you watch with your mom (that so many moms watch) saying, “Mom, I’m gay.”
My mom was my 8th grade teacher at that Catholic school.
We drove home together at the end of the day.
We turned on our soaps when we got home.
We watched them together.
We watched as Erica Kane’s daughter (Erica Fricken Kane!!) said the words, “I’m gay.”
What you should know is that I didn’t come out to my own mom until much (much) later.
I felt seen that afternoon, anyway.
In the first printing of In the Role of Brie Hutchens… there’s an error in my acknowledgements. A mistake happened as mistakes tend to do, and the last paragraph of those acknowledgements were left out.
In those acknowledgements I thanked Agnes Nixon. For writing those characters. For creating Bianca and writing that storyline where that brave young woman came out to her mom, Erica Kane.
What you should know is that Agnes Nixon made me feel less alone. Agnes Nixon made me feel seen.
I can only hope that, for some reader, somewhere, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… can do the same.
Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.