By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, Leanna Lucero and Tabitha P. Collins
Liam has never felt okay in his own skin because deep down, he knows that he is a girl playing a boy during his waking hours. At night, though, Luna emerges. Safe in the confines of her sister Regan’s bedroom, she transforms into the girl that she is inside. As Luna becomes more comfortable with her chosen identity, she can’t hide from the world anymore. Luna feels she must emerge from her cocoon and present as Luna to the world. But will Regan and the rest of Luna’s friends and family be able to accept Luna for who she is? And can Regan ever stop resenting the choices that Luna has made and how those choices affect her? Peters’ novel shows the struggles of a transgender teen trying to come to terms with her identity as well as shows readers how Luna’s struggles (and the struggles of others like her) can impact the lives of close friends and family members.
We began with a discussion about whose story is being told and from whose perspective. Our conversation transitioned from perspective to wondering if Time and Time Away were story patterns found in Luna.
TABITHA: Did you think that the character of Luna was underdeveloped in this book? I felt like she was less a character and more an object. I didn’t learn anything about Luna except that she likes to sneak into her sister Regan’s bedroom in the middle of the night and put on makeup. I understand that Luna is trans but that’s about all I learned. I don’t feel like she had a lot of personality. In fact, most of the story was about Luna’s sister, Regan.
LEANNA: I would say the story is about Luna’s struggle to come out. Maybe that doesn’t develop her personality, but the flashbacks to Luna’s childhood helped me understand Luna’s struggles.
MARY: The story is an outsider’s perspective on Luna. Regan was watching, participating in Luna’s life. She was more connected to Luna than other people, like Luna’s friend, Aly. But still, this is Regan’s story.
TABITHA: Maybe the title and the cover threw me off. I expected it to be more a story about Luna than about Regan.
MARY: So who do you think the audience for this book is? It almost seems like it would be for family members or siblings or…?
LEANNA: Allies, I guess?
MARY: Allies – to share the struggles that allies face?
TABITHA: Yeah, which I guess is something that we talked about in I Am J, where the family has no idea what’s going on and that it’s a transition for them as well.
MARY: And again, it has the story pattern of Time, right? Regan had time, but Luna’s parents did not. Though I think they suspect…
TABITHA: The mom, for sure.
MARY: So there was the story pattern of Time, and at the end there was the pattern of Time Away. We talked about how we weren’t sure if time away helped people understand in the same way that staying around to watch the development, the transition, the emerging would help.
TABITHA: I do think that time away might help Luna, because she’s walking into a great opportunity. And I don’t think that staying would benefit her at all.
MARY: Not at all?
TABITHA: I don’t know…. I think that Luna’s life has a lot of impact on Regan’s life. If Luna stayed, she would continue to impact Reagan’s life in a lot of negative ways because Regan spends all her time worrying about Luna and doesn’t live her own life. Luna’s the older sibling and is so wrapped up in her own world that it’s hard for her to see how she’s impacting Regan. Yet, Regan doesn’t say “no” because she doesn’t know how.
LEANNA: It does seem like Reagan is so focused on Luna, even when she’s not around Luna.
MARY: What does Regan focus on specifically?
LEANNA: I think Regan focuses on safety or on the fear she feels when Luna decides to transition and come out to everyone.
TABITHA: It’s obvious to Regan that Luna can’t keep hiding. Regan doesn’t know when Luna’s going to come out, and she is surprised when Luna shows up at school dressed in her girl clothes. Regan did not anticipate that, and the impact of Luna’s actions was difficult for Reagan to deal with. I think Regan just assumed that Luna could continue dressing up in the middle of the night in her bedroom for the rest of Luna’s life and not actually come out.
Our interest in the role school plays in the lives of LGBT teens sparked our discussion about the support Luna and Regan receive at school. We also discussed similarities found in Luna and I am J.
TABITHA: I was thinking about the school theme again. I think Luna and J are similar because neither of them goes to school because it’s too much — too awful, too traumatic. We see this when Luna’s dad showed up at baseball tryouts to make sure Luna participated. I thought, “Man, dude, you’re a jerk.”
LEANNA: School is a very restrictive environment, where even your family can show up and make sure you’re doing what they want you to do.
TABITHA: This might be why Luna spent a lot of time not going to school, like J. Then Luna was dragging Regan out of school.
MARY: Yet, wasn’t Luna really bright?
LEANNA and TABITHA: Yes.
MARY: So Luna could kind of afford to skip school.
LEANNA: J was bright, too. Right?
MARY: So why are these characters portrayed this way in these stories?
TABITHA: Do the characters have to be smart for readers to take them seriously as trans?
MARY: Is that what the authors are saying?
TABITHA: I don’t know, but in some backwards way that makes sense. I think that some readers would need a reason to believe that they’re not just crazy people. Does that make sense?
MARY & LEANNA: Yes!
MARY: But, I’m bothered by that.
TABITHA: So am I. I don’t think it’s okay if it’s true.
MARY: Is this trying to “normalize” the trans characters? They’re smart, they drive nice cars, and they go to Starbucks. They are just like “us.”
TABITHA: Seems to be. If they’re going to be on the fringe for being trans, if they’re going to be marginalized by being trans, they must somehow fit into categories that people find acceptable, you know? It’s a lot easier for general readers to accept characters as being trans if they’re portrayed as “normal” in other ways.
MARY: Yes, like if they’re really smart.
TABITHA: Or if they do things that make them a “typical” teenager so that we can forgive their trans-ness.
LEANNA: Or at least so we don’t think it’s a “phase.” Because they’ve been stable all this time, in other ways.
TABITHA: Right, so it doesn’t look like they’re having a breakdown. It seems like from the descriptions of Luna and I Am J, the characters live decent, middle-class lives, right? And they both have parents that are married. (The parents being married is kind of a big deal.) So they have this nice family, right? That’s another way the authors normalize Luna and J, by giving them this perceived perfect American family… a mom and a dad, good jobs, cars and stuff.
LEANNA: Maybe the middle-class lives surround these character to show no blame. For example, if the characters lived with a single parent or had less economic stability, those struggles may be seen as something to blame for the character choosing to be a different gender.
TABITHA: That seems like a nature versus nurture argument in some ways. Their environment is good, so readers expect trans characters to be happy, healthy, “normal” kids. They don’t have a lot of struggles.
MARY: Are you saying that the author is trying to diffuse the nature versus nurture argument by “normalizing” Luna’s environment?
TABITHA: Yes, in a way. Clearly nature has given Luna a good life, so readers can’t blame her trans identity on something that went wrong in her family life.
We closed our discussion with a conversation about the author’s call to action. We wondered if we were being called to action by the author or the characters in Luna and I am J.
MARY: Is there a call to action in Luna? What kind of action is the author or Regan or Luna asking readers to take? Do these books have a call to action?
LEANNA: In these books, the authors explained being trans, making sure not to confuse it with being gay or lesbian, and used proper pronouns. Maybe it’s a simple call (and I don’t know that it’s simple); maybe we’re called to use proper language and to understand differences between LGBT?
TABITHA: That makes sense. And Luna and J just want to be accepted. They want people to understand that being trans is who they are and to respect that.
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Publisher: Little Brown
Date Published: February 1, 2006
Winner of the 2005 Stonewall Honor Book Award from the American Library Association, the 2005 Colorado Book Award for Young Adult Literature, the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults 2005, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2004, and the New York Public Library Books for the Teen-Age List 2005.