Julie Anne Peters, Luna, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2004, 978-0-316-73369-5
Having read Julie Anne Peters’ book Keeping You a Secret, I was looking forward to reading Luna, especially as it treats a subject I too have written about (Boy & Girl and In Search of Lost Girls), a boy wanting to be a girl, or rather, in this case, not ‘wanting’ but absolutely ‘needing’ to be.
Although the two books are from the same author and are only a year apart, they are quite different. Keeping You a Secret has moments of intense joy and the main character is eminently likeable (see my thoughts about the book). She is constantly learning and moving forward. The situation in Luna is much darker, more oppressive, if not desperate. Luna is torn between the suffering of having the wrong body and a dreamworld in which she has become the girl she knows she is. Her sister, Regan, is devoted to and absorbed by Luna, being her only confident and lifeline, to such an extent that it is destroying her. Hardly surprising then that Luna is less of an euphoric read.
Part of the challenge in Luna in terms of writing is the point of view. The book is written from one perspective, that of Regan, Luna’s younger sister, whereas a good deal of the story is about Luna and her thoughts and feelings. This complicates the storytelling, because ways and means have to be found to relate Luna’s thoughts and actions through Regan without it seeming to be narrated by an outside and less engaged voice. As the story moves forward this becomes less important, as it is more and more clear that the story is as much, if not more, about Regan’s difficulty with her self effacement and the resulting disempowerment that springs from being convinced she holds the delicate balance of her family in her hands and she can’t let go. The way Peters resolves this dilemma is both clever and insightful.
Another risk that Peters takes in Luna is the frequent use of flashback. Such returns to the past can slow the narrative and even loose the reader. This is not the case in Luna. Coming as prolongations of Regan’s thoughts, they are part of the current action. This anchoring is strengthened by a clever inversion in which the flashbacks are written in the present tense whereas the main narrative is told in the past.
The story teeters on the verge of disaster with Regan struggling to avoid her whole world plunging into the abyss. There seems little hope of resolution, especially as the main characters have great difficulty in learning from their mistakes. No wonder that the reader should get frustrated and urge the protagonists to move forward. To counteract the feeling of stasis, the author uses momentary accelerations that heighten the tension. In a story that might intrinsically be repelling, this variety of pace is refreshing and engaging.