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"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." This is how sixteen-year-old Regan describes her older sibling. The world knows him as Liam, the handsome, brilliant guy whom half the girls in the senior class have crushes on. Liam, though, knows he's not really a guy. Instead, he's a girl trapped in a boy's body --- a transsexual. Liam's true self, Luna, adores makeup, clothes and dishing about boys with her younger sister. Regan, in fact, is the only person who knows Liam's secret.

To Regan, Liam has always seemed like a sister, and she is only slowly beginning to understand just how tortured Liam's secret identity makes him feel. As Regan narrates the novel, she often remembers times when Luna first came to the surface, times when Liam tried to hurt or kill himself because of his inner torment. Sometimes, though, having a transgender sibling is just plain embarrassing to Regan. When Luna tries to pass as a girl at the mall, for instance, or when she shows up in front of Regan's first boyfriend, Regan just wants to sink into the ground and disappear.

Most of the time, though, these siblings have a mutually supportive relationship, even if Regan is uneasy when she thinks about Liam "transitioning," becoming a woman on the outside as well as on the inside. This positive relationship is essential to Liam, who is sometimes teased at school and often bullied at home by their macho father, who embraces traditional gender roles and constantly pressures Liam to be more masculine.

LUNA is sometimes a difficult book to read, particularly the scenes in which Liam reveals his vulnerability and pain. It also manages to be a funny novel despite its serious subject matter, primarily because Regan is such a witty and sensible narrator. Sometimes the story gets a little bogged down when it pauses to explain transgender terminology or famous transsexuals in history. Most of the time, though, despite the frequent flashbacks, the narrative is engaging.

It is probably not surprising that LUNA doesn't quite have a happy ending. A hopeful ending, perhaps, but not a happy one. When Luna emerges from her cocoon, her friends and family also reveal their true selves, whether supportive, frightened or downright cruel. LUNA is a complicated novel dealing with complex issues and characters. It may be the first young adult novel to really deal with transgender issues, and as such, it offers an important opportunity for new dialogue and discussion.


Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

by Julie Anne Peters

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316733695
  • ISBN-13: 9780316733694