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Luna (National Book Award Finalist)
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Regan's brother Liam can't stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female name, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom, Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister's clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change: Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam's family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives?
Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen's struggle for self-identity and acceptance.
Table of Contents
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It was the feel of her presence in my room that woke me—again. I rolled over in bed and squinted at the clock on my nightstand. "What time is it?" My voice slurred. The blurry numbers came into focus. Two thirty-three. "Two thirty-three? Don't you ever sleep?"
She didn't respond.
I scooted my pillow against the headboard to sit up, see what she was doing. "What is that?" I asked.
"Like it?" She shimmied in front of the mirror. The layered fringe on the dress she was wearing swayed in waves. "It's an old flapper dress I found at Goodwill," she said. In her stockinged feet, she performed a little Charleston for me. "It's vintage. Totally retro. Don't you think? I'm wearing this baby to prom."
I snorted. Her eyes met mine in the mirror and sobered me fast. She couldn't be serious.
Examining the length of herself, she hooked her long hair over her ears and wiggled her hips again. She'd chosen the blonde wig tonight. It wasn't her favorite, since she thought it made her look cheap. Like a slut. It did go well with the red dress, though. She caught me looking at her and smiled. "I'm going to run for prom queen, too."
I burst into laughter, then clapped a hand over my mouth to smother the sound. Wouldn't want to wake the parental units upstairs.
She wasn't laughing.
She was joking. Wasn't she? "Lia—"
"Luna," she said. "I've taken the name Luna." Her eyes fixed on mine. To gauge my reaction, I guess. Or seek my approval. What did it matter what I thought?
"Why change?" I yawned. "You've always been—"
"Lia's too close. Lia Marie. It's just too close." She crossed my bedroom, blazing a trail through the layer of clothes and other crap on my floor. As she passed under the window, she stopped and pivoted. The moon cast an eerie glow through my basement window. A spotlight. A spray of luminescent beams.
"Luna," she repeated softly, more to herself than me. "Appropriate, wouldn't you say? A girl who can only be seen by moonlight?"
Exhaustion overwhelmed me suddenly. Or my weariness of it all. "Go to bed, Luna." I snuggled down into my comforter and punched my pillow, willing myself back to sleep. It'd take me hours to drift off again, especially if she stayed to do her makeup. And she would.
I studied her through a slit eye. Something was different. A change had come over her. Nothing physical. More a shift in her cosmos—or maybe a crack.
"I can see your bra straps," I told her. "You need to buy a strapless."
"Really?" She twisted her head to peer over her shoulder. "Do you have one?"
"Get real. Even if I did, you're not wearing my underwear."
"It wouldn't fit anyway. I'm at least a C cup."
I blew out a puff of air. "You wish." Rolling over, I muttered, "You're such a freakshow."
Her hair splayed across my pillow, tickling my face. "I know," she murmured in my ear. "But you love me, don't you?" Her lips grazed my cheek.
I swatted her away.
As I heard her slog across the floor toward my desk—where she'd unveiled her makeup caddy in all its glory—a sigh of resignation escaped my lips. Yeah, I loved her. I couldn't help it. She was my brother.
"Don't tell Mommy when she gets home," Dad says. "I want it to be a surprise." He smiles at me and Liam. Liam's six and I'm four and we're sitting on the couch watching Dad slice through the card-board around Mom's new washer and dryer. He pauses to loosen his tie and roll up his cuffs. "Did I tell you guys I got a promotion? You're looking at the new appliance manager for Sears. Next stop, King of the World." He winks at me.
"Yay, Daddy." I clap.
Dad looks at Liam and frowns a little. Liam's found the instruction booklet for the washer and is poring over it. He reads everything now. He tries to teach me, but it's too boring. I just want to watch TV.
His head shoots up.
"Here, take these boxes out back," Dad tells him as he carves out a door flap in one. "You and Regan can play fort."
Liam slides off the couch and the two of us drag the cardboard cartons through the sliding glass doors to the yard. We set them up next to the overturned kiddie pool. I can stand inside the boxes, but Liam's already too tall.
"Go get your Samantha doll," he orders me. "Get all her clothes, too. Bring the crib out and her bottles and diapers. Bring everything."
"No." His eyes dart around the interior. "I have to set up."
By the time I get back, Liam's hooked the two boxes together and lugged my play table inside. He's got my Little Tikes Kitchen in the corner and he's setting the table. "Put the crib over there." Liam points to the opposite corner.
On my way past, he takes my Samantha doll from me and cradles her in his arms. Smiling sweetly down on her, he informs me, "I'm the mommy."
"No," I whine. "I want to be the mommy this time."
"You can be it next time."
"You always say that." I throw all the baby clothes on the ground and stomp out the door.
"Wait, Re." Liam runs after me. "You be the daddy. Daddies are cool. You can come home with a surprise for Mommy. Like you won a million dollars, so you bought me a new house and a car. Better yet—you can pretend my Big Wheel is a Harley. Vroom, vroom." He mimes revving up the handle bars.
I fold my arms, thinking about it.
"Come on, Regan. Just this once?" He retrieves Samantha's pink dress from the grass. "Please?" he asks real soft.
I drop my arms. "Okay."
Liam re-enters our playhouse. I know what he's going to do now—change her clothes. That's all he ever does when he's the mommy, dresses and redresses the babies…
My alarm blared and I bolted upright. Blindly thrusting my arm toward the nightstand, I punched off the buzzer. Was that a dream or a memory? It was too vivid to be imagined. Too real. Was his fascination with playing house the first indication I had that Liam was different? In his head and heart he knew he was a girl? That he was transgender.
No, there was something else. An earlier event, when we were even younger. My mind was too fogged with sleep to conjure up the image. Either that or I didn't want to remember. There were a lot of things I didn't want to remember.
I stumbled to the shower in a coma. The bathroom was still steamy, which meant Liam was up and dressed. I let the warmth seep into my body as I stripped. Then, bracing for the shock, I wrenched the cold water faucet on and plunged in face first.
Dad was chuckling at the comics when I trudged up the basement steps and into the kitchen. Next to him, at the dining room table, Liam absently spooned Wheat Chex into his mouth while scanning a textbook into his mega brain. Advanced Placement Physics, I noted with more than a twinge of resentment. He couldn't share a few IQ points with his only sister, could he? Liam was dressed in role, as he called it. Boy role. His long-sleeved shirt was pressed and buttoned to the chin; tucked into his khaki Dockers, which were ironed with military precision.
I couldn't even spell iron. My outfit consisted of faded carpenter pants and whatever shirt from the heap on my floor was closest to the door.
"Morning," Mom greeted me at the refrigerator with her perfunctory removal of the juice carton from my mouth. "You look like a zombie," she said, returning the OJ to the shelf. "Are you sick?"
"No. Just tired. From lack of sleep." I widened my eyes at Liam as I slid into my chair across from him. He flipped another page, soaking up quantum physics at Pentium speed.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" Dad asked, glancing up from the paper.
"No reason," I mumbled.
Mom took her chair at the other end of the table. She punched buttons on her cell phone and put it to her ear while Dad said to me, "You need to sleep. Girls have to get their beauty rest."
Liam's eyes met mine. I expected him to smirk or something, but instead he glared.
What? Dad was joking. God. Liam was so sensitive sometimes.
"Yeah, hi Andy," Mom spoke into her cell. "It's me. Did we ever get our reservations confirmed on the Hartford house for the Sorensons' wedding? I can't seem to find the paperwork." She stirred her coffee.
I caught Dad rolling his eyes. He wasn't crazy about Mom's job. Specifically, her elevating her own status from Wife and Mother to More Significant Other. Not that he was sexist or anything, just boring and conventional. How could he resent her working? Since he got downsized by Sears and had to take a flunky job at the Home Depot, somebody had to earn our lunch money.
"Hmm." Mom sipped her coffee. "Maybe I'll call again just to be sure. Did you hear that Yarrow girl ask if she could order black frosting for her cake? Black. On a wedding cake." Mom listened for a moment, then burst into laughter. "Oh, Andy," she wheezed. "What would I do without you?"
My eyes cut to Dad, who bristled.
In an effort to drown out the sudden static in the air, I retrieved my chemistry book from my backpack and set it on the table. The thought of what we were doing today in class made me queasy, so I put it back. Out of sight, out of mind. My philosophy of life in a test tube.
I snatched a bagel off the lazy Susan in the middle and smeared a glob of strawberry cream cheese on it.
Dad said, "A guy goes to the doctor for a checkup and the doctor says to him, 'I have bad news and worse news.'"
Liam and I groaned in unison. Dad folded the newspaper closed.
Mom continued, "I wrote up the cake order, but I might hold off a while before sending it in until I talk to her mother. She'll be mortified, I'm sure. I can't wait to see the wedding gown. What?" She listened, then laughed at Andy again. Nothing was that funny this early in the morning.
"'What's the bad news?' the guy says." Especially not Dad.
"'The bad news is you have terminal cancer.'"
"'Oh my God.'" Dad held his heart. He gasped and panted for effect. "The man asks, 'What's the worse news?'"
"The doctor informs him, 'The worse news is you have Alzheimer's.'"
"The guy breathes a huge sigh of relief. He says, 'Thank God I don't have cancer.'"
Liam chuckled. It took me a minute, then I cracked up. I tried to stifle it so as not to encourage Dad.
He beamed. "Good one, huh?"
"Andy, before I forget, I need to pick up a prescription on my way in, so I might be a few minutes late."
For some reason, that piqued Liam's interest. Mom disconnected and rose from her chair. Leaving her phone and Day-timer on the table, she bustled down the back hallway. To pop another upper, no doubt.
"I talked to Coach Hewitt yesterday," Dad said.
The hair on my arms stood up. Liam's hair would've too, if he had any there. Dad continued, "He says to come see him this week about getting on the team. Since that whole Diaz family moved back to Mexico, he's got a few open positions. He can't guarantee varsity, but JV for sure. Tryouts are Wednesday. Skip asked me what position you played, and I told him first base. Unless you want to pitch." Dad reached over and jabbed Liam's arm playfully.
Liam looked so brittle, I thought he'd break. He resumed eating his Chex as if grinding sand between his teeth.
Dad added, "Stop by his office after school today."
Liam swallowed. He said evenly, "I don't want to play baseball, Dad."
My breath caught. I looked at Dad. Liam had never said it out loud. Never.
Dad's expression didn't change, but his voice did. "Skip's doing this as a favor to me so you can participate in sports your senior year. It'll look good on your transcript, you know."
That made me snort.
Dad riddled me with eye bullets. I felt the shrapnel and squelched any smart remarks I might've considered adding. "All you ever do is sit on your duff downstairs and play those mindless computer games. No wonder you're so pale. Both of you."
I tried to send Liam a silent message like, Blow it off. But he was closed to the outside world, the way he gets. Staring into the depths of his cereal bowl, drowning.
Dad creased the newspaper in half lengthwise, then quarters. Slow. Deliberate. He said to Liam, "Do this for me."
That wasn't fair. That was so unfair. Liam's Adam's apple bobbed. If Dad made him cry—
"I'm terrible at baseball," Liam said quietly. "You know that. I'm terrible at sports, period."
"Aw, come on. You're not that bad." Dad whapped his arm again. Liam absorbed the blow like a deflated punching bag. "You just don't work at it," Dad said. "You don't stick with it. You've got the size and speed, you know. You could bulk up some, build your strength. We could go to the Y together and work out on the weight machines. Skip said he'd sneak us into the batting cages after hours. He says he's been trying to recruit you since your freshman year when he saw you play soccer."
Liam lifted his head and locked eyes with Dad. "Which I did for you."
Dad shoved himself away from the table, rattling the dishes and silverware. He stormed into the kitchen. Liam and I eyed each other. Before I could say anything, Mom rushed back in, grabbed her cell and stuffed it into her purse, then opened her Daytimer. "I may be late again tonight." She flipped a page. "I have a hair appointment at four. Regan, why don't you throw together a tuna noodle casserole for dinner. You know the ingredients."
Sure. Eye of newt. Tongue of snake.
She added, "Since you're taking Skills for Living, it'll be good practice."
For what? I wondered. Poisoning my family? "I have to baby-sit," I said, a little too gleefully.
Mom opened her mouth to lecture me again about being more help around here, more subservient, less of a guilt trip on her, when Liam piped up, "I'll do it."
"No, you won't," Dad barked. "That's not your job." He loomed in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, arms folded.
"Why is it my job?" I flared. Forget what I said about him not being sexist. "I hate to cook. Let Liam do it if he wants to. He's a better—"
"Regan." Dad held up a hand to silence me. "Your mother asked you. It wouldn't kill you kids to be more help around the house. Both of you."
"It might," I said under my breath. "We could choke to death on the dust."
Mom shot me a scathing look.
"I'll be happy to help," Liam jumped to my rescue. "Just tell me what to do." He turned to Mom. "What can I do?"
She sighed wearily. "I don't want to argue about it. I'll just reschedule."
"Who's arguing?" I asked. "If Liam's willing—"
"Don't reschedule," Dad ordered Mom, ignoring me. "Regan is more than happy to help."
"Dad, I told you, I have to work. What do you want me to do, quit my job so I can stay home and cook your dinner? Clean your house? Wash your clothes—"
I stopped. Why did that sound familiar? Mom and Dad both glowered at me, avoiding eye contact with each other, of course.
Mom shoved her Daytimer into her purse. "I don't need my hair done today. I can reschedule."
Dad's fiery eyes scorched my face. Why? He should be happy he's getting his freaking tuna casserole.
On her way by me to retrieve her portfolio from the kitchen counter, Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. I must've flinched because she said, "For heaven's sake, Regan. What's the matter with you? You're tense, not sleeping. Do you need something to help you sleep?"
"No." I twisted out of her talons. "I'm fine." She was the junkie, not me. Her medicine cabinet was crammed with uppers and downers and equalizers and mood stabilizers. I think she was going through the change—mental pause. I just wish she'd lock up all her pills.
Mom didn't leave. She lingered behind me, catching my eye in the glass patio door, actually looking concerned.
"I'm fine," I repeated, swiveling my head up to her. "I just have a couple of tests this week." Which was true, even though I wasn't sweating them. Not as much as chemistry today.
She continued on her mission, snagging her portfolio and hurtling toward the door, jangling keys. "Have a good day," she said to air, mostly.
Liam called after her, "You too, Mom."
Dad rose to make his final pit stop before heading off to Home Depot, where today he'd be demonstrating the joy of caulking.
"Can I get a ride?" I asked Liam.
He didn't answer. I took that to be a yes. We slammed down the rest of our breakfast in silence.
The sound of the toilet flushing signaled Dad's imminent return, so Liam and I packed up. Dad paused in the foyer, zipping up his jacket. "Don't take pills, honey," he said to me. "Just get to bed earlier." He pointed at Liam. "Go see Skip after school. Do it."
"Yes, sir," Liam said.
The door whooshed open and shut.
I crossed my eyes at Liam, which he missed because he was charging for the exit.
I snared my backpack and parka, hustling to catch up, but by the time I locked the front door behind me he was already backing down the driveway. "Liam, wait!" I flew across the yard.
He gunned the engine and swerved into the street.
I lunged for the door handle.
Slowly Liam turned his head. The look on his face—the sheer force of it—made me drop my hand and stumble backward.
We're down the street at the Walshes' for our weekly backyard barbecue.
No, it was more eventful than that. The memory jogged loose. A birthday. It was Liam's ninth birthday party. The day was warm enough to have the party outdoors.
We're celebrating Liam's and Alyson's birthdays together. Alyson is Liam's best friend—has been since kindergarten. Our parents and her parents have been friends for years. We do lots of stuff together, like celebrate both birthdays.
Except that was the last year we did birthdays. Why?
Liam and Alyson are jumping around, hyper about opening presents. They invited a bunch of kids from school to their party. All girls, Dad notices. I hear him say to Mom in the Walshes' kitchen, "How come there aren't any boys at this party? Doesn't Liam have any of his own friends?"
I climb onto a stool at the breakfast nook and spin around; pretend I'm not listening.
"He has lots of friends," Mom says, arranging candles on the cake. "They all just happen to be girls. What's wrong with that?"
Dad strikes a match and begins to light the candles. I count them to myself: one, two, three…
He shakes his head. "A boy his age…" Dad doesn't finish. "I found his birthday wish list on the dresser."
Mom jams her hand inside her apron pocket, like she lost something.
"A Prom Barbie? A bra?" Dad arches his eyebrows.
"He was kidding, Jack," Mom says. "It was a joke."
"A joke, huh? Why didn't he show it to me? I would've gotten a kick out of it."
Mom doesn't answer.
Dad exhales a long breath. "I don't get that kid. I really don't."
… seven, eight, and one to grow on.
Dad adds, "Sometimes I think we don't connect like a father and son should. Maybe I'm doing something wrong—"
"Daddy, can I put it out?"
Dad jerks around, like he's surprised I'm there. "Hey, my little Ray gun. Come on over here and zap it." He smiles and holds out the match to me.
I hop off the stool and run over, wet my fingers with spit the way he showed me, and smash the match tip between them. "Ow," I yelp when it hisses, even though it doesn't hurt.
Dad kisses my fingers. Then he clamps his big hands around my waist and lifts me over his head. Balancing me by my stomach on his head, he swings me around in a circle until I squeal and Dad gets dizzy. I know I'm too old, but I still like to play Daddy's girly whirligig.
I spy Liam in the doorway. He's watching us, watching me go round and round. Dad finally sets me down. We're both laughing and staggering. I see Liam's eyes fix on mine and he gives me that look—
That was the look. He hated me.
Why? Because of the way Dad treated me, treats me still, different from him? Dad never played favorites, if that's what Liam thought. In fact, since his birthday was in March and mine fell a week after Christmas, Liam always got more presents than me. What did Liam want, to be the girly whirligig?
It struck me like a hammer to the head. Well, duh, Regan. That's exactly what he wanted. It's what he's always wanted. If Liam could wish for one thing in the world, one birthday present, he would ask to be born again. Born right, in the body of a girl.
Liam had stranded me in Siberia without a sled. It had to be a hundred below today, and the high school was two miles away. I'd only walked half a block and my feet were already ice floes. "Damn you, Liam," I seethed aloud. "I hate you."
No, I didn't. He didn't hate me, either. He was just angry about his life, which I could understand. It must be horrible to be in the wrong body, to have this dual identity. I knew he suffered. I just wished he wouldn't take it out on me. It wasn't my fault I got the body he wanted. I wanted Britney Spears's body. Did I get it? No.
Okay, so that was minimizing Liam's misery. But damn. It was cold.
As my toes cracked and fissured inside my frozen Nikes, the question lingered: Why was that the last year we'd celebrated Liam's and Aly's birthdays together? Something else had happened. What?
"Here we go." Mom pivots in place, balancing the sheet cake across her forearms. It's decorated two ways. One half is a football field with miniature players; the other is a pink ballerina twirling on a painted lake.
Liam's eyes light up. "Cool," he breathes. "Can I have her?"
I see Dad look at Mom. She avoids his gaze. "Get everyone rounded up," she tells Liam.
"Hey, Aly," Liam calls down the deck steps. "Wait'll you see this cake."
We sing and eat cake and I hear Liam pleading with Alyson to let him keep the ballerina. She doesn't care. She's into unicorns now. She'd give the ballerina to Liam anyway just because they're best friends. She likes to make him beg, though. Same way I do.
Liam and Alyson chant, "One, two, three, go!" They tear into their presents.
I sit by Alyson as she passes me everything she gets. Jewelry and clothes and hair scrunchies. Liam has to see, too. He oohs and aahs and touches and holds her presents. He keeps them too long because Mom has to say more than once, "Pass it on, Liam, so everyone else can see."
The gifts dwindle and finally all the packages are opened. But Liam's still riffling through the wrappings. Frantically.
"That's it, Liam," Alyson says.
"No, it isn't."
"I'm telling you, that's it."
Liam checks under the table, behind his chair. He turns to Mom. "Where are they?"
"What?" Mom asks.
Liam tilts his head at her. "You know. My presents from you."
"We got you the basketball hoop and the scooter," Dad says. "Isn't that enough?"
"No, because he's a greedy bastard," Alyson blurts out.
"Aly, really!" her mother scolds. Mrs. Walsh blushes and shields her face behind her hand. Dad and Mr. Walsh howl.
Liam stands up fast. He hoists his hands onto his hips and says, "Come on. Where are they?"
Dad bends over and grabs Liam's new basketball. "Let's go hang the hoop and I'll show you the O'Neill oopsy-daisy drop shot." He tosses the ball to Liam.
Liam catches it, but throws it on the ground. "That's not what I asked for. Where's my bra?"
A couple of girls behind me titter. Alyson giggles and covers her mouth. Mrs. Walsh does, too. I'm not laughing. I see Liam's face turn red. Dad's spine goes rigid.
Liam steps away from him. I do, too. The look on Dad's face… Liam whirls on Mom. "You asked me what I wanted and I told you."
It happens so fast it's a blur. Dad clutches Liam's hand and almost wrenches his arm from the socket. He yanks Liam toward the house. I hear Dad snarl under his breath, "We're going to have a talk, young man."
Liam whimpers, "No, Daddy."
Dad hauls him up the steps and into the house.
Mom and Mrs. Walsh start clearing the table while all the girls paw through Alyson's stuff. Aly takes me aside and whispers in my ear, "Liam's so funny. Isn't he?"
I nod. Force a smile.
She bites her bottom lip, gazing wistfully up the deck stairs. "I'm going to marry him, you know. Then you and me'll be sisters." She squeezes my hand.
I squeeze back, thinking, I already have a sister.
Had I really thought that? If I could see the girl in Liam, why couldn't Mom and Dad? Why couldn't everyone?
Whatever Dad had said in the house that day had caused a rift in Liam's universe. A black hole had opened up and swallowed him whole. Swallowed her—Lia Marie, her first chosen name. She'd receded, retreated, withdrawn.
But not forever. Not for long.
Weird. She was nine and asked for a bra? I was eleven before I got up the guts to ask Mom. But then Lia Marie always accused me of suffering from arrested development.
Tires screeched at my side and in reflex I hurdled a snowbank.
Liam's eyes met mine through his car window. He motioned with his chin for me to get in.
I considered making him beg. Oh, forget it. I'd already lost three toes to frostbite.
I climbed into his Spyder. At least he had the top up today. Sometimes he drove with it down, even in winter. As if he couldn't feel the cold; as if his body wasn't connected to his brain.
We rode in silence, me trying to coax circulation back into my fingers, Liam staring ahead with those uninhabited eyes. As we ascended Heart Attack Hill, Horizon High rose like the lost city of Atlantis. Then sank back into the sea as we roared past.
Awards for Luna
National Book Award Finalist
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Stonewall Honor Book
A Lambda Literary Award Finalist
A Book Sense Summer Reading Book for Teens
Praise for Luna
*"Groundbreaking, finely tuned realism about a transgender teen. . . .Peters writes her characters with care and complexity."-Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"A thoughtful novel about a brilliant, determined, transgender teenager. . . Liam/Luna is an affecting character."-The New York Times
"This novel breaks new ground in YA literature with a sensitive and poignant portrayal of a young man's determination to live his true identity and his family's struggle to accept Luna for who she really is." - School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Sep 15, 2008
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers