Sunday, March 29, 2009
Fireflies. Moon. Darkness.
--note this book is a quick read--unfortunately it was one book I kept putting down and then getting distracted from finishing--thus the delay in the review.
Liam waxes and Luna wanes and poor old Regan must witness, like a far away star that the moon has enticed to supper
Chemistry? Why did it have to be about chemistry? Regan cries in Julie Ann Peters’ young adult drama Luna, Regan whose heart is burdened by her brother, Liam’s, secrets, as Liam transitions into Luna, which threatens to pull the entire family’s life ordinary blah blah suburbia into chaos.
Peters adopts the last tenants of macho suburbia as the blueprint for Liam’s home life: go talk to the coach, son, let’s re-build a Volkswagen, son, date pretty girl, son etc., a blueprint I recognize from the 80s and 90s, and which no doubt persists today, hopefully a little less macho than it once was, I think, for much of that macho-ness is a hand-me down from be-a-man-disease from the 1950s, which slowly erodes away as younger men become fathers. Younger men who hold on to macho-ness a little less tightly, I think. Not Liam’s Dad, though, unfortunately for Liam’s Dad, Liam has discovered the internet, and that he’s transgendered.
Oh, Liam’s known since he pined for a bra when he was twelve. During one of Regan’s slumber party Liam edged his way to the slumber party floor, where his toenails were painted by Regan’s friends and Luna slipped out, just so much. All he wanted was to just do his toes and talk, you know, be a girl. All he has ever wanted. And now older, he has vocabulary, now, he has trans friends, albeit virtual, and they, be their existence, give Luna permission to grow.
First there was Liam, then Lia Marie, the slow moth cocoon of Luna, only a silky nub. As Liam ages the truth of his nature grows, and Liam becomes only a shell as Luna struggles with going out in public, wigs, and coming out to Dad (Mom’s an after thought in this—a shadow of a pill user), and avoiding a black hole of depression.
Peters nails the issue from all sides, the pain, the burden of the secret-keeper, the parent’s self-serving fog, the consciousness enlarging experience of cross dressing—the high of stepping into a new identity. Peters even nails the revulsion stones feel when they encounter a trans person. Trans people are freaks to everyone else, the stones; the clerks quiver, jocks hate, an older man stalks them at Taco Bell. Regan is witness and protector. Secret keeper and soul guardian.
The book is really about Regan and the hazards Luna’s secret wreck upon her life. She’s a loving sister that deserves her own life, only Luna’s life is too big for one person, and Regan is almost swallowed up.
Which is why the novel is so haunting, because you want all this little family to just tune into each other and open up. Dad is too gender blind to see that his son is anything but a regular boy, Mom too career blind to notice. And Liam (and I mean Luna in boy mode) is so freaking eager to be the dutiful daughter it made my stomach ache. Of course no one allows him to partake in these roles, only Regan, who allows Luna into her bedroom at night to do her make-up and play with wigs and pose in the mirror. It’s a beautiful mess, beautiful in the way dying stars are beautiful, because Luna’s emotional scars are palpable.
For trans teens there is no easy solution to the pain. If everyone were more tolerant then Luna would have found herself earlier, perhaps, but this is not the case. The paperback version includes a discussion group for teens and adults, which was a happy find. The very fact this book was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction is happy news indeed.