Luna may be about typical adolescent angst and the pains of growing up, but Julie Anne Peters's book is a landmark. In 2003, the book was published and became the first young adult novel to prominently feature a transgender character, making it a huge stride for LGBTQ literature. Though the book is light on sex, drugs, drinking, and all those other vices that usually have people clutching at their pearls, it is still so controversial that it gets banned in some schools.
But why all the controversy?
The entire novel is told from the perspective of Regan, who is your typical sixteen-year-old girl: she's angry at her parents, self-conscious, and awkwardly obsessed with a boy in her chemistry class. She stumbles over her words and spills hydrochloric acid on herself when she's trying to flirt. You know, all in a day's work for your average high school student.
But Regan is the keeper of a very serious secret—her sibling is transgender and identifies as a female. During the day her sibling goes by the name Liam, acting and dressing like a boy, especially around their conservative parents; but at night Liam's true self—Luna—emerges, complete with dresses, a wig, and make-up.
The book deals with the strong bond between Regan and Luna as they try to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence while Luna is trying to slowly come out and express herself. There are definitely moments where things get tough—like when Regan loses her babysitting job because Luna reveals her true self—and they don't always get along perfectly. In fact, Regan resents Luna for making her life more difficult a lot of the time.
But at the end of the day, the siblings truly love, respect, and can count on each other—and that makes all the difference as they deal with the repercussions of Luna finally living her truth.
Peters is a seasoned young adult (YA) novelist and is no stranger to tackling stories about teenagers and adolescents who are finding their identities and dealing with some serious alienation. A lot of her books deal with LGBTQ issues and relationships, and she addresses all the rage and loneliness that comes from not being understood.
Ultimately Luna is a book about self-discovery and acceptance. It takes Luna a long time to come to terms with who she is, and an even longer time to reveal that truth to everyone she loves—but in the end, both Luna and Regan realize that she needs to live her truth in order to survive and be happy.
P.S. A quick note before we go any further. The respectful way to identify transgender people is by the name and pronouns they identify with—no matter what part of their lives you are referring to (unless, of course, they tell you otherwise—the most respectful way to identify anyone is the way they ask you to, trans or not).
That said, in this Learning Guide we use Liam and male pronouns whenever we are discussing a part of the book in which Peters uses those identifiers; the same goes for Luna and female pronouns. However, when we discuss Luna as a character more generally, we have stuck with Luna and female pronouns.
Confused about what this all means? Click here before you dig in.
Why Should I Care?
Luna is arguably one of the first young adult novels to deal with the plight of a transgender teenager, which makes it a pretty big deal in its own right. The book exposes readers to what it's like to be a transgender teen and the complexities of growing up with a transgender family member—after all, both Regan and Luna describe in harrowing detail how they have to deal with prejudices, confusion, and even parental disapproval.
As one of the first books about a transgender teen, Luna definitely deals with the ideas of acceptance and love and how other characters treat Luna when they find out. Even though Regan and Luna don't always see eye to eye, Regan provides Luna with unconditional love—it doesn't matter to her whether Luna wants to live as a boy or a girl. No matter what, they are still siblings and Regan respects Luna's decisions and life plans.
The book also explores how other characters come to terms (or fail to come to terms) with Luna and accept her for who she is as well. Because of this, we witness a number of different reactions and responses as Luna comes out—which paints a diverse and complex picture for us as readers.
Because it deals specifically with a transgender teenager, Luna offers a unique viewpoint into the process of transitioning and what it's like to come out as a teenager. We get to see the whole process in all its glory and pain and, while doing so, think about gender in our society in general.