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Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,5344711,564 (4.22)54
Romance. Young Adult Fiction. Young Adult Literature. LGBTQIA+ (Fiction.) HTML:Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco's Chinatown during the 1950s.
"That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other." And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: "Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
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. 
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 fatherâ??despite his hard-won citizenshipâ??Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
*This audiobook includes a PDF of the bibliography and acknowledgments from the book
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» See also 54 mentions

English (45)  Dutch (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
Tried really hard to be literary and just managed to be slooooow. The timelines around the flashbacks were awkward. I get that Lo did a lot of history research, but sometimes one can't cram it all into a single book without detracting from the story. ( )
  caedocyon | Feb 23, 2024 |
A rich, immersive, and achingly heartfelt novel that is superbly written and highly transportive. “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” is to be savored; there is so much depth and detail to it, and the characters and their stories just LEAP off the page and into life. I adored every moment of Lily’s story and will absolutely be rereading and recommending this book to others! ( )
  deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
I’m struck by the warmth and belonging Lo threads through Lily’s life, even as she explores the repression and marginalization of being a Chinese-American queer girl in the 1950s. If you’re looking for a book about queer joy, this is certainly not it - the world’s a little too real. That said, there is something familiar and gentle in the safe spaces that Lily finds, the girls who meet her and know her, the self-discovery she navigates. There is hope and wonder in the queer adulthoods she bumps up against. ( )
  Elianaclaire | Jan 3, 2024 |
Ohhhh this was lovely. Sapphic historical fiction for the mid-20th century about teens discovering who they are amidst a backdrop of McCarthyism.

For me, personally, it was only a few years ago (in PBS's excellent Asian Americans documentary miniseries) when I learned about the FBI's program to root out suspected communists by investigating paper sons and daughters, and launching a Chinese Confession Program to provide a path to citizenship for those who arrived in less than legal ways- provided they also pointed fingers at potential fraudsters etc. While not explicitly said, this explains why some members of my family are very cagey talking about family history with me as they think I'll "blast it all over the internet" even though any potentially affected parties are long gone. The protagonist Lily is older than my mom in the years the story takes place of 1954-1956 (but maybe the same age as some uncles/aunties), but it is contemporary with familial experiences. As historical fiction, I also really appreciated Malinda Lo's attention to detail when it came to period romanizations and dialects used. While Mandarin dominates today, pre-1965 most Chinese American communities were predominantly Cantonese (with Toishanese populations) because the majority of early waves came from southern China.

LNatTC also handles the discomfort of holding multiple identities and taking space in them well. Lily is the only Asian face at the Telegraph Club, and almost inevitably every new person she meets there asks 1) can she speak English and 2) does she know [insert other Oriental they know from another club] as if we're a collective hive mind that knows all members. She's realizing things about her sexual orientation and dealing with those feelings only to get immediately pulled out of it by these unfortunately still-frequent questions (while I haven't encountered the English one in a while, I do periodically get, "Oh, you remind me of a friend from back home" and I can never tell if that's due to personality or... if it's just because the other person is Asian). Meanwhile, among her childhood friends Lily is pressured to date a boy and not be like those weirdos by her bestie Shirley, who longs for an All-American life while balancing being a good Chinese girl as those are the dishes third culture kids need to balance. We ARE American by virtue of being born and raised here, yet due to the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype baked into societal racism, we often represent our community wherever we go for better or worse.

I recognize other reviewers found the adult flashbacks as disruptive to story flow, but it reminded me of learning about your elders to place their actions and frames of reference in context. As mentioned previously if your citizenship status is threatened, of course you're going to be frightened of deviations from what's considered the norm. Or, what kinds of experiences would lead women to take an interest in STEM careers, and to work at the JPL? ( )
  Daumari | Dec 28, 2023 |
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 | Nov 7, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lo, Malindaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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Romance. Young Adult Fiction. Young Adult Literature. LGBTQIA+ (Fiction.) HTML:Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco's Chinatown during the 1950s.
"That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other." And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: "Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
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. 
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 fatherâ??despite his hard-won citizenshipâ??Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
*This audiobook includes a PDF of the bibliography and acknowledgments from the book

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