Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Posted March 25, 2021 by Angie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

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Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda LoLast Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on January 19, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical, LGBTQ
Format: eBook (415 pages)
Source: Library
Purchase: AmazonIndieBound
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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 father--despite his hard-won citizenship--Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.


Proceed With Caution:

This book contains period-typical racism and homophobia.

The Basics:

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is set in 1954 San Francisco, following seventeen-year-old Lily. Lily is Chinese American, living in Chinatown with her family. She loves science and thinks she might be a lesbian after seeing a male impersonator in the newspaper. She then befriends a classmate, Kath, who brings her into a new world of women loving women.

My Thoughts:

I was super duper excited for Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Malinda Lo writes such unique queer stories, and I knew I was going to have to get my hands on this Historical tale set in Chinatown. While I did enjoy it, I didn’t love it. It’s very slow and I think the third person POV kept Lily at a distance. We only get her surface level feelings about everything going on around her. There’s also a handful of flashback chapters from her parents’ and aunt’s POV, which set the stage for this time period, but further separated us from Lily.

I did adore Lily and Kath’s blossoming relationship. Last Night at the Telegraph Club starts with them simply being classmates, although they had been for years. Lily had only hung out with her Chinese classmates prior, but there’s something intriguing about Kath. The two begin walking home together, then Lily starts asking questions and gets the feeling that Kath might be like her and have the answers she seeks. Then they start sneaking out to go to the Telegraph Club, and emotions are high and confusing and Lily isn’t sure about anything anymore until Kath kisses her! Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for them given the era they’re stuck in.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club also deals with how Chinese citizens were threatened for being believed to be Communists, or Communist sympathizers. Lily’s father’s citizenship papers are confiscated when he doesn’t tell the FBI exactly what they want to hear, and he faces deportation. Unfortunately, this plot point isn’t addressed at all. Lily doesn’t seem affected by it at all, and it’s not even brought up again until near the end when her parents use it as a way to threaten her to hide who she is.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club was good. Not great. It’s way too slow in the beginning and didn’t really have any direction until the last quarter or so when big events finally unfold. Then it’s just over. The epilogue was quite cute and I wish we had gotten a bit more of that. There is a good exploration of changing friendships and self discovery throughout, but again, it felt distant and disconnected from the central plot and romance.

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