|A Review byRebecca James|
|Luna (2004) by Julie Anne Peters Little, Brown, 248 pages, $16.95
"My brother was a black hole in my universe. He was sucking the life right out of me. It seemed as if I was being pulled into this crater by a force I couldn't fight. Liam was already down there. We were together at the bottom. The crater was deep and dark and closing in on us. We couldn't move, couldn't rise, couldn't see to find our way out."
Luna is the second name she chose, a word that bespoke the ethereal quality her life had taken on over the past few months, not a recognition of herself, that was always there, but the acknowledgement that Luna could not be contained for much longer. Regan's brother's transgender identity needed affirmation, role models, and transitioning, and Regan was about to feel the impact of these changes like never before.
Regan and her older brother, Liam, the main characters in young adult writer Julie Anne Peters's latest novel, Luna, are high school students who have been guarding Liam's secret for some time. The story is told from Regan's perspective, a twist on many gay-themed books for young adults. The result is a novel that many different teens can relate to. Regan is straight, so much of the book is actually her struggle to balance her own support and acceptance for Liam with her own social needs. Yet transgender teens may see bits of their own jumbled emotions in Luna, Liam's nighttime self.
Peters intermixes the siblings' current predicament with Regan's memories of their younger years, allowing readers to understand how she, with no previous knowledge of sexual identity, came to be so understanding of Liam. Regan's flashbacks include Liam's bungled birthday parties ("But mom, you promised me my first bra!"), the first time Regan "met" Luna (then Lia Marie), and Liam's troubled relationship with their distant mother and testosterone-charged father. The result is a novel that encompasses the entire metamorphosis of Liam to Luna, usually a difficult transition for non-trans teens (and adults) to understand, no matter how empathetic they may be.
"Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I thought. An exquisite and delicate creature, unfolding her wings and flying away. Except in Luna's case, the butterfly is forced to rein in her wings and reinsert herself into the cocoon every day. Every single day, she has to become this shell of a person." Regan's perception of Luna's emotional and physical transition is amazingly astute, even as she resents the restrictions her brother's secret has placed on her own life.
In truth, Regan feels guilty and selfish worrying about her own needs when her brother's life is so complicated, but she is emotionally drained. Because she feels the need to protect her brother's secret, she cuts herself off from her school's social life, spending more time alone or with her brother's circle of girlfriends than her own peers. Liam enters her bedroom in their home's secluded lower level (his bedroom and a common area, free of adult supervision, are also there) and transforms into Luna. The make-up and clothing is either that which is stored in Liam's padlocked treasure chest or on Regan's dresser, although ironically she doesn't display much interest in clothing, make-up, or (much to her busy and slightly old-fashioned parents' dismay) other "feminine" pursuits such as cooking and cleaning. Luna, transformed, is stunning. The dim light of the bedroom masks his Adam's apple and any remaining stubble. His style is dramatic but impeccable, and his figure and bone structure easily morph from handsome boy to attractive woman. Regan, sleepy and now familiar with Luna's nightly adventures, simply rolls over and tries to rest.
As Liam gains confidence and the guidance of a slightly older, transitioning "T-girl" via the Internet, Luna's begins to emerge in more public places. Regan begins to question her own acceptance of Luna as she begins to draw more negative attention to herself and those around her. Regan's difficulties developing relationship with a new boy at school and her subsequent termination from a lucrative and pleasant babysitting job stem from Liam's transitioning.
"Just once I wanted to be able to hold a conversation with a person without having to watch every word I said. Or worry about saying too much, divulging the truth, giving her away.
I wanted to be free of this secret, this lie, this brother who wasn't a boy."
Even so, Regan travels with Liam as Luna makes her debut in a shopping mall, with less than perfect results. Her loyalty, however, is tested when Luna appears at school.
"I was a traitor. I was a coward. I abandoned Luna in her hour of need. I betrayed her the same way Aly had. Luna trusted me. She believed in me. She counted on me for her life."
That's a lot of pressure for a teenager, especially one with other family problems.
Overall, Peters's novel is a fresh look at the life of a transgender teen and those around him. The end may seem a bit implausible or hasty, but readers will enjoy the hopeful ending, a shift from other, bleaker novels. Although clearly geared toward young adults, Luna is a treat to read for anyone interested in the complexities of supportive relationships for people we love but don't necessarily understand.
Rebecca James is an English teacher in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She divides her time between Pennsylvania and Rehoboth Beach.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 8 July 1, 2005