YA Book Review: Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Luna, by Julie Anne Peters, is a story about a codependent relationship between two sisters, one of whom, Regan, has been trusted to keep a major secret for the other, Luna. That secret happens to be that Luna, a senior in high school, is a trans woman on the verge of making the decision to transition. It struck me early on that Luna’s trans status could have easily been swapped out for basically any other secret of similar magnitude and the story would have read the same.
While I’m a huge advocate of incidentally trans characters in teen literature (or any literature for that matter), I was still a little bothered by this story.
When Luna was published in 2004, it was one of the first—if not the first—Young Adult novels featuring a trans character. Julie Anne Peters is an author who writes primarily YA novels with LGBTQ characters and families and I have no doubt that Luna was meant as a nod to her young trans readers. While I commend her for blazing a trail and likely fighting for this story with her publishers, I didn’t really relate to Luna all that much and as far as representations of trans teens, it kind of failed for me.
For starters, the story was narrated by Luna’s sister, Regan, not by Luna. I found myself often wondering while I read whether, in her initial outlines, Peters had Luna as the narrator, but was talked into switching their roles by her publishers. This would have certainly made for a better story. Instead (and unsurprisingly), yet another young trans woman’s voice is silenced in favor of a young cis woman.
While I commend her for blazing a trail and likely fighting for this story with her publishers, I didn’t really relate to Luna all that much
Through Regan’s eyes, Luna is sort of like the butterfly featured on the cover of the book—beautiful, magical, and kind of gross and annoying (sorry if you love butterflies, but I’ve always hated them—they’re kind of like colorful moths the way you can swat at them to go away and they keep flapping around in your face. Not unlike Luna). There are parts where a real, developed character shines through, but for the most part, the title character is kind of shallow, self-centered and hard to relate to or see as an actual person.
Regan, however, feels a lot more real, but real in a way that is kind of cruel and not at all understanding of her sister at times. As a trans person, it felt a little gross at points. I know people can feel confused about a loved one’s transition, but does that mean I would benefit in any way from listening to their own whiny, self-centered process of trying to deal with my existence? Not really. And knowing the insecurities reading Regan’s take on her sister brought up in me, as someone who started transitioning 7 years ago and is pretty much past the initial fear and confusion of the whole thing, I can only imagine those insecurities would be even more intense for someone who is still living the scary reality of transition or pre-transition every day. It’s not that I was sitting there feeling bad about myself the whole time I was reading it, just that I kind of felt the burden of dealing with someone dealing with me all over again, and that sucked a little bit. Maybe it would feel validating for a teen family member of a trans person to read, but I don’t think it is a trans person’s job—particularly a young one’s—to sit around feeling sorry for the cis people whose lives our transitions affect.
One thing, however, that I do really appreciate about Julie Anne Peters’ novels (Luna included), is that she does not try to give LGBTQ characters the types of fairy tale endings discussed in last week’s review of Parrotfish, where the original family unit is restored and everyone accepts the queer or trans person’s identity. Instead, she creates powerful and even happy endings in which main characters’ home or family lives are turned upside down and not always put back together entirely. I give her a lot of credit for doing this, as this is a very real thing in the lives of many LGBTQ youth, who often lose their families of origin and have to develop their own chosen families. Giving teens positive examples of teens who face their fears, find their fears to be almost as bad as they imagined, but still come out as strong, resilient and happy is way better than just telling them not to worry in the first place. This kind of development is one element of good literature that is often absent in YA stuff for queer teens and I have to give Peters points for doing this in Luna.
So overall, I don’t think I would be too excited to recommend this book to trans teens. This is not to say that it wasn’t a good book. If you are looking for a book geared towards teens which deals with codependency, Luna would be a great choice and I would be quick to recommend it. I would also recommend it to a teenager trying to understand a sibling’s transition. As one of the earliest examples of YA lit for trans teens, I have to say I’m at least glad that Peters got the ball rolling with Luna, but hopefully the books start getting better from here out.
Next up is: Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, by Kate Bornstein. Ask the cute teen librarian to help you find it (or better yet, ask them to buy it if your library doesn’t have it)!