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YA Book Review: Luna by Julie Anne Peters

YA Book Review: Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Jack Radish

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)!


  1. Ooh, great review. Thanks, Jack! I know that when I was a Young Adult myself and reading gay and lesbian YA novels, I definitely ran into a few from the perspective of the sibling or friend that left me feeling alienated and faintly grossed out.

  2. As someone who works with and mentors trans youth through a trans youth group I co-facilitate, these reviews are incredibly helpful! I so often am asked for book suggestions, and now I’ll actually be able to make informed recommendations. Thanks Jack!


    • I’m so glad to hear that, Morgan! I’m really struggling with finding good books with trans girl characters (especially POV characters) so I feel really bad that right now it feels like there are going to be better books to recommend with trans boys than trans girls. Hopefully more digging and tips from other people will uncover more good books though.

      Here’s a link, though, to my list on Goodreads:

      This list is just books that exist, not books that are necessarily good. I have a feeling some of them will be actively bad too, but I think it’s important to be able to see what’s out there. You can also add to the list if you’re on Goodreads and think of another book to add. I write reviews on Goodreads of everything I read too, so if you (or anyone) wants to friend me on there, it’s always awesome to see what other people are reading!

  3. I agree with you about the problem of ‘trans people seen through a cis character’s perspective’. I suspect this is mostly from the cis author chickening out (or being realistic?) about their ability to go deep into a trans character’s mind. A certain portion of the trans girl market, the techno obsessed ones, will connect with Luna’s gamer/techie tendencies. I’ve known a number of trans people (youth included) who are like that. There are a lot of other trans kids who won’t connect with the tech thang at all and ,for them, Luna will seem really divorced from their lives.

    I have a lot of issues abut what the book misses, including any real mention of Luna’s relationship (negative/positive) towards her body. This tends to be huge for both trans people and teens and I think the book totally misses it. You have to wonder, did Peters really know any trans girls before writing this… I’m going to guess no. (Still, it’s a better written book than Parrotfish)

    Moreover, Peters represents Luna through this gauze of a dream/abstract wistfulness which makes her seem like a fictionalized character as opposed to her very real sister… in other words, cis girls = real; trans girls = a fabrication. These are the kinds of, perhaps, unintended messages which YA authors need to be very careful avoiding because teens pick up on and internalize these unconscious (?) messages more than the official “feel good” ones mentioned in the publisher’s blurbs.

    • Yes to everything you said!

      I wanted to share this link to an article I actually read after writing this review (otherwise I would have included it) about Peters’ conception of Luna, in which she actually says that Luna came to her in a dream (kinda weird imo, but it totally fits with the way she is characterized and with what you were saying about her).

      She also discusses why she decided to write about Luna from the point of view of her sister, not her own point of view, and she says some stuff about how she didn’t think she could write from the point of view of a trans girl because she’s not trans. While I get that, it also kind of seems like a cop-out. Anyway, I think I’m going to talk about that more in an upcoming review of a book where a cisgender author actually does a good job of writing a trans POV character, so I won’t say too much here.

      But here’s the article (which you can also found linked through Peters’ website):

      • Oy. Just read that article and I have to say that ascribing creative ideas to visitations and the like rubs me the wrong way. Well, I mean, when they actually describe dialogue with them. I also think that creating Regan is kind of a cop-out. At this point, I’m going to go get this book and give it a read. Heh.

        I do appreciate the author’s honesty about her ignorance.

        • ikr? she says she spent, like, 10 years conceptualizing the book. being honest about ignorance is awesome, but 10 years of good research could have helped her through some of that ignorance if she really wanted it to.

          • Yeah, exactly. It just makes me uncomfortable that she seems to think that she couldn’t actually do that good of a job at giving this character a voice, but ended up publishing it because she decided that she needed to help the trans* community.

            On another note, I was looking at her list of published novels and the most recent one looks kind of interesting. Do you know anything about it?

            • Her most recent book, or her most recent novel? Cause she just came out with a book of short fiction in August and a novel in June. Actually, she’s published 3 books this year–that seems like a lot.

              I don’t know about those books, though. I would like to read more of her stuff, I’ve only read a few books of hers. I do like her, in spite of not being totally into her attempt to write trans ya fiction.

              • Sorry, I was being too lazy to look up the title. It is Pretend You Love Me. There are so many danger signs in the synopsis: one of the main characters is described as “exotic”, and it’s about whether a gay person and a straight person can be in love.

                • oh, yeah, one of the characters is named Xanadu? yeah, i’m kind of interested to read it and see what it’s all about. interesting that she feels like she can write a gay male character, even though that’s not her experience, but she can’t write a trans girl character because that’s not her experience

                  • Oh, snap. But to be fair, I think she wrote that she didn’t even know any trans women…maybe she knew gay men personally and felt more qualified to write a gay male character?

                    • Poison Girl

                      I’ve got a feeling that neither the trans women or gay men in her stories are people or meant to be fully developed characters, they sound more like foils used to develop the main character.

        • I’m glad you’re going to read the book, though! Even though I have to be really critical of this book, I’m glad it exists and if circ stats and sales of books with trans characters are high, hopefully that will help up and coming writers get better books with trans characters published!

          • Have you read this? I did and wasn’t super into it, but worth looking into.


            • I haven’t seen that, awesome, thanks! I just added it to my goodreads list. I don’t actually read Manga, but have been wanting to try since all the teens at all the libraries seem to be so very into it.

              • Yeah, I don’t either and there’s a good introduction for people who aren’t familiar with it, which I really appreciated. I know that it’s quite popular with teens and this is a series, I believe, so maybe there will be one you’ll want to add to your list.

  4. Is anyone else here entertaining the idea of NaNoWriMo this year? I’m considering doing it for the first time and think it might be fun if there were a NaQuNoWriMo internet club (for cool kids only).

    • Ooh.

      • Ooh is write! I mean right.

        *dodges rotten tomato*

    • YES! You figured out my ulterior motive for writing about/trying to get folks riled up about queer/trans YA fiction!

      (that would be to trick others into writing awesome trans (or queer) YA fiction to compensate for being relatively unskilled at writing fiction myself)

      • Sa-weeet! I can’t promise I’m a great writer myself; I just got back into the drive for fiction after not having tried to seriously write anything longer than a page since high school. Thus my skills are a little… wanting.

        I have two story ideas right now, one which is a short story that kind of sucked but I might turn into a novellaish thing, which is a kind of magical realist story about a FAAB genderqueer teen who loves cowboys and RPGs and sci fi but feels conflicted about their masculinity in light of being read as the token nerd girl and treated not so great by some of the boys around them. But then uses Turkish-American cowboy powers to fight evil.

        The other grew out of my obsession with Faust legends, and involves a gay aspie Faust and a glowing, intersex Mephistopheles who eats the hearts of their enemies. I, uh…

        Which one would YOU rather be subjected to? :P

        • Oh my god! sounds amazing! I’m partial to nerdy teens into RPGs, but i think you should write both cause they both sound kind of amazing.

          • Ahh ok I’ll do both. But I might make you read them.

            The hardest part about writing the first one is that it’s in first person, a style that gets snubbed as “for YA and chick lit” (“girl book” is a one way ticket to never being respectable I guess :C ) I think it’s WAY harder to write subtle yet believable first person from the perspective of a person struggling with the very things happening in the plot. They can’t be too thick as to not mention all that’s going on, but they can’t be too clever or else there’s no struggle.

            Plus when -I- was a teenager I thought I was SO DEEP AND REAL unlike those OTHER BITCHES god what is wrong with GIRLS they are so weird boys are so much better oh god please love me. So the topic of asserting not being a girl while trying to fight internalized girl hating is super tough. And that’s all I have to say about that.

            • I would be so thrilled to read a draft or finished product, thank you!

              I also have to say, I love the first person narrative and I don’t think YA stuff is any less respectable than adult stuff and I tend to think YA stuff is way better–much more character driven and character driven stories are just way more interesting in my book.

        • mzomr

          I’m a little late to the thread, but PLEASE write these books. I think they sound *awesome*.

  5. missanthrope

    “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). ”

    This is an archetype that has been popping up in popular media and I think we will see more and more of as awareness of trans people grow. It’s akin to the “magical negro” cinema archetype that I personally call “magical tranny” in where the trans characters exist to:

    1. Teach the cis character or characters how to relate to their gender, broaden their horizons in life, how to make radical life transformations , show insight into their own lives or teach then about diversity.

    2. As a foil for the cis character(s) or author to project their own anxiety about gender upon.

    Transister Radio is another book (from what I know about it, haven’t read it yet) that seems to do this, it’s written from the POV of a cis woman who is dating a transitioning trans woman and is mostly about how the transition changes her, it isn’t so much about a transsexual experience. Instead the trans experience is just a plot device much like it was in Trans America, which was mainly a road trip and fish-out-of-water story. Trans characters in these cases help move the plot, they are not essential to the story itself in these stories.

    These examples show that we need more trans authors period. We need more people telling their stories, not just the typical biographic “how I trnansitioned” books, I mean fiction and non-fiction from a trans perspective. I know that some of the authors here are doing just that. But it irks me that cis people get to write 99.9999999999999% of the books published each year, and even in the microscopic literary genre of trans books (fiction and non-fiction), they are still writing 50% of the material, almost always fucking up in the process.

    That being said, from the reviews I’ve heard, Almost Perfect is one of the few books written by a cis person that does a decent job. Transparent wasn’t bad either.

    • Poison Girl

      P.S. that post was by me, Poison Girl, I accidentally entered my email in to the name field.

    • yes to everything you wrote. do you write fiction? i don’t write fiction. but i know that someone (and probably a whole lot of someones) who reads PrettyQueer writes fiction. just sayin. (and I think 50% is a generous estimate cause so far, very close to none of the YA stuff I have read or lined up to read is by trans authors)

      Also, I have a hold on Almost Perfect at my library and can’t wait to get it (it’s checked out right now but i’m the only hold. can’t complain too much about it being out considering i WANT these books to circulate). I’ve heard mixed reviews, so i’m super excited to see for myself. one of my upcoming reviews is of a book by a cis person who writes a trans character really well too, so i’m pretty excited about that.

    • It’d be nice to see a cis character’s inquisitiveness go over the line and be met with a nice, sharp “I’m not your Sancho!” Hmm…

  6. “Luna, by Julie Anne Peters, is a story about a codependent relationship between two sisters…” This made me lol because it was the main thing I took away from this book when I read it a year or two ago. I was like well, another boring trans woman character with no interiority or substance, ho hum; what *is* there to pay attention to here? I agree with your analysis, Jack.

  7. Check out Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. A far far better YA book about a teen transitioner.

    • Isn’t that the book Red read right before she killed all those people?

      • Maybe, trans people killing tons of people is kind of a thing in literature.

        hopefully i will find out soon, I’ve had a hold on it at the library for ages but I think I should get it any day now.

        • Oh shit, you totally reminded me to check if the copy I requested came in and it did on TUESDAY! So did Luna. I know what I’m going to be sitting on my ass doing this weekend!

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