Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
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 father--despite his hard-won citizenship--Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. ~TheStoryGraph
Last Night at the Telegraph Club reveals some of the complexities of how LGBTQ+ folx experienced the United States in the 1950s. Lily stands at a cross section of multiple identities which come with, both, advantages and disadvantages. She is the daughter of a doctor, placing her in a higher class than children of merchants, and she is American-born. However, Lily is Chinese-American and queer, placing her and her family in a constant struggle of trying to convince the U.S. government that they are loyal to the States and constantly trying to prove they are not Communist/Communist sympathizers. Often times, in learning the LGBTQ+ history, folx miss the fact that white queer people were also racist. Lily's intersectionalities lead readers through this experience and help us understand how much was at stake for those who no longer wanted to lie about who they were.
It was as if there were cycles that repeated themselves over and over, but most people never saw the repetition; they were too deeply enmeshed in their own path to see it.
The book includes timelines, footnotes, flashbacks, and an author's note in order to help readers understand the context of Lily's story. This brings in the perspectives of her mom and aunt as they faced expectations of what it means to be a good Chinese wife. Lo reveals her inspirations for these parts of the story in the Author's Note. The timelines place the lives of Lily's family within the context of the Chinese Exclusion Act, World War II, McCarthyism, and other historical events of the 1950s. Lo is able to include the traditional Chinese characters, as well as romanizations of Mandarin and Cantonese with the help of footnotes. Thus, showing that Chinese languages, cultures, and people are not a monolith. Lily's parents do not speak the same dialects as their families are from different classes and parts of China. These details made Last Night at the Telegraph Club all-encompassing.
A wonderful book for lovers of YA, Romance, and Historical Fiction! Last Night at the Telegraph Club makes a great companion to history classes covering the mid-1900s in the United States and would help students view those events from multiple perspectives. I highly recommend this book to folx aged 13 and up.*
*Due to one sex scene. However, if this is a non issue for guardians I'd recommend it to any age.