Clearly, it's important that books like this are written, not only so that teens who are transgendered have a voice in young adult literature, but also so that our society as a whole has a chance to better understand gender identity and gender expression.
Regan's older brother Liam has always felt as if he was different. Through the years, he's been closer to her female friends than any guy his own age, and he's always been interested in typically "feminine" toys and clothes. Eventually, Liam begins to transform his outward appearance for certain outings and lives a secret life as Luna, who is a reflection of his true female identity. Regan helps Luna hide this secret from their parents and everyone around them, but as social and family pressures start to build, Regan starts to resent how Liam/Luna's choices are affecting her own.
I'd read many glowing reviews of this book, and it was nominated for a number of awards when it came out in 2004. For me, however, this novel wasn't quite the reading experience I was hoping for. Firstly, Luna's story is so interesting that I really wish that the book had been told from her point of view--or even in third person omniscient. Luna's story is the reason I picked up the book, and it became a little frustrating to read everything filtered through her sister Regan's thoughts and emotions. Regan also behaves pretty selfishly and stupidly a number of times throughout the story, and while some of it might be understandable, I really didn't feel deep enough love and support from her for Liam/Luna to make up for it, other than some kneejerk defensive reactions.
I might have felt a little more lenient if this had been a middle grade book, as the level of complexity isn't very deep. The story line is so straightforward that I could probably have guessed its outline ahead of time (I could almost picture the checklist of acceptable terminology that had to be covered) and most of the characters do no more or less than what you really expect them to do. I don't feel as if I'm that well-versed in transgenderism, but none of the revelations or behaviors really surprised me all that much (from Luna or from her friends and family), and most of Luna's personality seems to be pretty stereotypical--she seemed so much more of a symbol to me than a real living, breathing, thinking, emotional human being. The way the story is told is also a little jumbled, and the flashbacks are rather awkwardly inserted into the story in no particular order.
It's nice to see that this is not one of those melodramatic stories that ends on a tragic note, however. I'm glad that teens can find not only struggles to identify with in books like this and Suicide Notes
, but that there are also feelings of resolve and hope. Still, I wish that these characters had more emotional depth and that they interacted on a deeper, more meaningful level, rather than just mingling in surface activities (dates, trips to the mall, playing video games) or conversations that center around this topic alone. It would have made for a much richer and much more rewarding reading experience...not to mention a much more realistic one.
I've seen many positive reactions to this story, and if other readers find it more insightful than I did or are moved by it more than I am, then I'm happy that that's the case. This book certainly offers the opportunity to open up a dialogue about some important topics, and there's plenty of value in that.