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Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6672728,645 (4.26)20
Winner of the National Book Award A New York Times Bestseller "The queer romance we've been waiting for."--Ms. Magazine Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can't remember exactly when the feeling took root--that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.  But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father--despite his hard-won citizenship--Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. (Cover image may vary.)… (more)
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» See also 20 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
The writing and much of the content of this book disappointed me. I am not a young adult, and maybe they would have appreciated the repetition and constant thoughts of the characters. I did not need more action, but I also did not need the reason everyone said what they did. I was also disappointed in the ending, which I did not find hopeful. The facts provided regarding the treatment of "others" in the 1930's-60's was illuminating, as were the details regarding the horrible Red Scare. I hope the book does not encourage readers to not share their questions and feelings. ( )
  suesbooks | Aug 1, 2022 |
Finally, the intersectional, lesbian, historical teen novel so many readers have been waiting for.

Lily Hu has spent all her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown, keeping mostly to her Chinese American community both in and out of school. As she makes her way through her teen years in the 1950s, she starts growing apart from her childhood friends as her passion for rockets and space exploration grows—along with her curiosity about a few blocks in the city that her parents have warned her to avoid. A budding relationship develops with her first White friend, Kathleen, and together they sneak out to the Telegraph Club lesbian bar, where they begin to explore their sexuality as well as their relationship to each other. Lo’s lovely, realistic, and queer-positive tale is a slow burn, following Lily’s own gradual realization of her sexuality while she learns how to code-switch between being ostensibly heterosexual Chinatown Lily and lesbian Telegraph Bar Lily. In this meticulously researched title, Lo skillfully layers rich details, such as how Lily has to deal with microaggressions from gay and straight women alike and how all of Chinatown has to be careful of the insidious threat of McCarthyism. Actual events, such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s 1943 visit to San Francisco, form a backdrop to this story of a journey toward finding one’s authentic self.

Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love. (author’s note) (Historical romance. 14-18)

-Kirkus Review
  CDJLibrary | Jul 27, 2022 |
crying, shaking, throwing up ( )
  Susz13 | Jul 18, 2022 |
Digital audiobook performed by Emily Woo Zeller

From the book jacket Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. American in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily and her family.

My reaction
I really liked this YA work of historical fiction that focuses on the Chinese-American experience during the McCarthy Red-Scare period. Lily is a fairly typical teen of the era, especially one growing up in an insular culture and a protective family. She is pretty naïve about relationships, but then she has focused her energies to this point on science and being a good student. When she meets Kathleen it’s through their school work, and Kathleen is cautious about approaching Lily in any romantic way.

But Lily stumbles across a book that depicts a lesbian relationship and it puzzles her, though she is also intrigued and excited. And slowly she begins to realize that there is an entire community of women who share these feelings. Coming out in this time period was not easy and fraught with danger. Lily risked, at least, being ostracized by her family, and at worst being arrested and/or committed to an asylum to “cure her” of her “aberrant behavior.” Though she starts out naïve and unsure, she shows herself to be principled, compassionate, and willing to stand up for herself.

I really appreciated the historical setting for this coming-out story. It provided Lo with an opportunity to educate her readers about the realities of this era, especially on Chinese and other Asian Americans. She also detailed how San Francisco, a city now famously welcoming and open to its LBGTQ residents, was not so long ago a dangerous place for gays. I liked how she included an historical timeline every few chapters, detailing now only what is happening with the characters in the book, but the actual events of the period. And I loved the Author’s Note at the end, in which Lo provided much more information about the history depicted in the novel. When you read this book, do NOT skip this section.

The audiobook was narrated by Emily Woo Zeller who did a marvelous job. There are many female characters, and she was able to differentiate them sufficiently so I was never confused about who was speaking. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jun 30, 2022 |
Where do I even begin with this amazing book? I started 2022 doing more pleasure reading than I had in a while, but it was almost exclusively nonfiction. Then, my mom picked this book up, but with little time to read it herself, gave it to me. I read the description and immediately thought I'd love it, and I was definitely correct. I love a good historical fiction novel, and flew through this in a matter of days.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club's protagonist is Lily Hu, a Chinese-American high schooler growing up in San Francisco in the 1950s during the height of the red scare. To add to all of this, Lily also happens to be lesbian.

It was a pleasure reading about Lily's blossoming relationship with Kath Miller, her love interest, and their forays to the Telegraph Club. Even more so, I felt lucky to witness Lily grow into a young woman who stands firm in her identity.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club was educational as well as engaging. I really enjoyed the flashback chapters narrated by Lily’s different family members (her parents & her aunt) and believe some of the themes that were expounded upon in those chapters- such as Lily’s father’s role as a WWII vet juxtaposed with the US government’s subsequent turn on him and other Chinese-Americans- were integral to the experience of the story as a whole.

The women in STEM theme was amazing as well: Lily’s aunt works as a computer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lily wants to work there as well, and Kath wants to become a pilot.

I truly have nothing but good to say about this book- it’s a fantastic read for both young adults and adults alike. ( )
  KellyNorris | Jun 1, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Malinda Loprimary authorall editionscalculated
Booth, AnnaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyle, KristinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heausler, AnneCopy editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruan, FeifeiCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To all the butches and femmes,
past, present, and future
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The Miss Chinatown contestants were clustered together behind a canvas screen near the stage.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Winner of the National Book Award A New York Times Bestseller "The queer romance we've been waiting for."--Ms. Magazine Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can't remember exactly when the feeling took root--that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.  But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father--despite his hard-won citizenship--Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. (Cover image may vary.)

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