(Cross-posted at We Read to Seek a Great Perhaps)
by Julie Anne Peters
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2004
Ages: YA (probably suitable for mature middle level)
Awards: National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Stonewall Honor Book, Lambda Literary Award Finalist
The list of books written about transgender teens is a short one. The top spot on that list may very well be reserved for Luna, the story of a girl named Regan and her older brother, Liam, who wants nothing more than to be her older sister, Luna.
Luna is beautifully written, with an authentic voice and an ease of expression that make it – linguistically – very easy to read. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s not easy to read once you get past the words and sentences. This is a tough story, because for all of the clarity and simplicity of language she employs, Peters brings a helluva emotional punch.
Obviously, sexual identity is the major issue of this book. (It’s important to differentiate between sexual identity and sexual orientation; the former refers to how male or female we consider ourselves to be, whereas the latter refers to the gender to which we are emotionally, affectionately, and sexually attracted. A person whose sexual identity doesn’t match his or her anatomical gender may or may not have a homosexual orientation. In that handy-dandy acronym, LGBTQ, “T” is used as to stand in for a broad range of differences, including transsexuals, cross-dressers, intersexed/hermaphrodite/androgynous people, and other people who spend much of their lives privately or publicly expressing themselves in other than their anatomical gender.) Liam/Luna’s struggle to make a life for herself in the body she chooses is painful to witness as she encounters incredulity, harassment, mocking, and physical abuse. It leaves the reader wondering how any high school transgendered student successfully navigates this process.
Ultimately, however, the book isn’t so much about Luna as it is about her sister Regan. Regan is the only person who knows Luna, and her love for her sibling makes her Luna’s one ally. The weight of this responsibility is an awful lot for a sophomore to bear, though, and as the story unfolds Regan begins to be crushed beneath it. Regan is under an emotional onslaught from so many different directions: fear for Luna’s safety, fear for her own social life, frustration at her parents and their many issues, concern for the girl who believes she’ll one day marry Liam, guilt at not being a better ally, aggravation at her perceived constant inability to do anything right. Tack that on top of all the usual things a sophomore girl has to deal with emotionally, and it’s a wonder Regan doesn’t implode.
Peters has written a story about what it means to be a transgendered teen, but more importantly she’s crafted a beautifully sympathetic look at the hardships straight allies can withstand as they try to understand, support, and protect the ones they love. It’s not an entirely realistic story; Liam’s financial independence is all-too-convenient, their parents distractingly oblivious, and Regan’s acceptance almost too perfect. It would be a darker, but perhaps more lifelike, tale if Peters had delved more deeply into the depression and suicidal tendencies affecting Liam and, by association, his sister. Doing so, however, almost certainly would have shifted it out of the YA realm.
The story ends better than I’d hoped (I don’t much like sad endings) but felt a little abrupt – which is my critical way of saying that I wonder if Peters has considered writing a sequel. I really would like to find out what happens next for Regan and Luna.