BookBrowse Reviews Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo X
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jan 2021, 416 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A heart-wrenching coming-of-age tale at the intersection of identities and generations for a Chinese American family in 1950s San Francisco.

Author Malinda Lo takes readers to Chinatown, San Francisco in 1954, where 17-year-old Lily Hu is looking to her future amidst the Red Scare, cultural pressures and discovering who she is – and who she loves – in Last Night at the Telegraph Club. The young adult novel follows Lily as she navigates her last year of school as a Chinese American girl who has aspirations of a career in math like her Aunt Judy who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Lily starts a friendship with Kathleen Miller – the only other girl in the advanced math class – while grappling with questions about her sexuality, feelings she does not have words to express, but that she cannot deny. Kathleen takes Lily to the Telegraph Club to see a male impersonator, and in this new world, Lily finds the space and words to better understand herself, and the feelings she realizes that she has for Kathleen. But unfortunately, it is still the 1950s; Joseph McCarthy might have fallen out of favor, but the Red Scare is far from over, and Lily is doubly threatened as a lesbian and as someone of Chinese descent as the United States becomes more opposed to China's leftist movement. Lily's freedom in discovering who she is conflicts with her loyalty to her family — her father's citizenship papers are taken by the FBI after she inadvertently associates with someone suspected of being a communist. At the same time, Kathleen's presence in Lily's life leads to tension with Shirley, her best friend since childhood. But the Telegraph Club remains a stolen space of freedom, and having found that space, Lily cannot just go back to who she was before. Lo gives readers a deep exploration of love across boundaries, unfettered in both its joy and its pains, that's easy to empathize with.

The novel is told primarily from Lily's time, but also includes flashbacks to her parents' lives, interspersed with historical context. The latter is thorough but far from dry, and an author's note further explores some of the themes. Lo explains that the inspiration for Lily came from two books on uncovered histories of women in rocket science and a queer history of San Francisco that included people of color in this community. She also provides specific histories on language, the 1950s, San Francisco and Chinatown specifically, plus a bibliography of further resources. Lo's extensive research makes this a YA novel with real historical teeth, grounded in the time period, geography, culture and history it is representing, offering a new window into an underrepresented intersection of identities. She does not sugarcoat reality, but still leaves readers with a sense of hope and appreciation for the power of young love and the true freedom of knowing oneself.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a powerful coming-of-age story that expands on hidden histories of a particular period of the United States from several angles, in beautiful, moving prose.

This review is from the Last Night at the Telegraph Club. It first ran in the February 17, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Genesis
    Genesis
    by Guido Tonelli
    Popular science books represent an important niche in non-fiction. They build a bridge between ...
  • Book Jacket: Buses Are a Comin'
    Buses Are a Comin'
    by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
    Charles Person was just 18 years old in 1961 when he became the youngest of the first wave of '...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Angeline Boulley's young adult novel Firekeeper's Daughter follows 18-year-old Daunis — ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter in Sokcho
    Winter in Sokcho
    by Elisa Dusapin
    Our unnamed narrator is a young French-Korean woman who works at a guest house in Sokcho, a popular ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Girl in His Shadow
by Audrey Blake
The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Ariadne
    by Jennifer Saint

    A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

  • Book Jacket

    Crossing the River
    by Carol Smith

    A powerful exploration of grief that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

Who Said...

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd rather have been talking

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.