“I’m Luna.” He smiles shyly, dropping his eyes to the floor.
“Okaaay,” I say slowly.
She lifts her eyes and adds, “I’m a girl.”
Julie Anne Peters’ novel Luna, a National Book Award Finalist, follows Regan O’Neill as she struggles through the regular troubles of a high school sophomore: boy drama, tough teachers, being the only one to know her brother is transgendered (or TG, as he calls it). To a stranger, Liam seems to have it all: he’s a straight-A student with plenty of friends, a lucrative job, and a nice car. But in the safe darkness of three AM, he becomes his true self, a girl named Luna. But as Liam’s eighteenth birthday approaches, Luna’s presence squeezes Liam and Regan out of their own lives as the subterfuge necessary to maintain the façade grows increasingly complicated. But is Luna ready for the world? And is the world ready for Luna?
There are two female protagonists in this novel, as you might imagine, Regan and Luna. Luna isn’t a gay male who likes to dress up. She was merely born into a body of the wrong gender, thus her preference for boys is heterosexual (which I hadn’t realized about TG orientation). While Liam is pressured by his father to try out for baseball and get a girlfriend, Luna is doing research on the sex reassignment surgery and other transgendered youth, getting ready to step into the world as her true self. But as carefully as she applies her makeup, she still doesn’t “pass” perfectly, and constantly must battle negative reactions from strangers, family, and friends; people who just see her as a man in women’s clothing. In the end, the book isn’t about being accepted by the world; it’s about gaining the confidence to be yourself, accepted or not.
Regan is clumsy, fashion-blind, and incredibly self-conscious; but she has been faithfully keeping Luna’s secret since fourth grade. When Luna decides it’s time to make her debut into the world beyond the midnight of Regan’s bedroom, Regan is half-terrified and half-relieved. She accepts Luna and wants to protect her from the surely judgmental eyes of the world. But she has been the only line between Liam and suicide and between Liam and the pressure of their parents for so long, often at the sacrifice of her own life and happiness.
Honestly, I don’t know much about the TG population, so Luna was certainly an informative book, plus it dealt super-realistically with both the feelings of Luna, of Regan (who will never truly understand), of the rest of the world (who mostly don’t want to understand). While homosexuality is on the way to being widely recognized if not accepted as established at birth, being TG is much more likely to be considered a choice. For Luna, and indeed for most of the TG population, this is not the case.
Regan’s clumsiness extends beyond just character cuteness; in fact the scenes with her crush, Chris, read like something out of a Three Stooges sketch—which I have to admit is a little hard to buy. She also spends some time being whiny and self-pitying, though I suppose that being the only line of support for your older brother (sister?) for nearly a decade entitles you to a little whining. She faces down a topic that many adults have trouble wrapping their heads around, and she does it with empathy and strength. Occasionally the gender-bending pronouns were confusing, particularly when the shift from Liam to Luna occurs midsentence, like when Regan explains “he’s going to change into her girl role.” This is especially problematic when there are other girls in the room.
The book was interesting, though it was more of an exploration of Luna than it was a story, if that makes sense. Thus, Luna makes a JG on the PSA.
“Luna,” she repeated softly, more to herself than me. “Appropriate, wouldn’t you say? A girl who can only be seen by moonlight?”