Summary and book reviews of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

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
  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2021, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
Last Night at the Telegraph Club

The first time Lily had gone to Thrifty had been sometime last year. She had ducked in to buy a box of Kotex, because she hadn't wanted to get them at the pharmacy in Chinatown, where she'd risk running into people she knew. Thrifty was just outside the neighborhood, so her friends didn't usually go there. She had soon discovered that Thrifty had another advantage over the Chinatown pharmacy: it had a very good selection of paperback novels. There were several rotating racks of them in a sheltered alcove beyond the sanitary napkin aisle. One was full of thrillers with lurid covers depicting scantily clad women in the embrace of swarthy men. Lily normally bypassed that rack but today she paused, drawn in by The Castle of Blood, on which the blonde's red gown seemed about to slip off her substantial bosom, nipples straining against the thin fabric.

The book rack alcove was normally deserted, but even so, Lily spun the rack self-­consciously,...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
PRE-READING EXERCISE
In Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo challenges popular perceptions of the 1950s, including stereotypes about Chinese Americans, the invisibility of the lesbian and gay community, and the role of women in the space program, particularly as computers.

EXERCISE
What do you know about the 1950s? What assumptions do you have about people, places, and events? Make a list on a piece of paper. Then, as you read Last Night at the Telegraph Club, keep note of anything new that you learn, especially things you are surprised or concerned by.



DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
(PROLOGUE) What themes and tensions does Lo set up for the novel in the Prologue, particularly around race, nationalism, culture, and gender?

(CHAPTER 2) ...
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    National Book Awards
    2021

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review Members Only (487 words).

(Reviewed by Michelle Anya Anjirbag).

Media Reviews

O, The Oprah Magazine
The Price of Salt meets Saving Face in this gripping historical thriller from the celebrated author of Ash....Last Night at the Telegraph Club is proof of Lo's skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger.

Ms. Magazine
Lush, ambitious and layered, Malinda Lo’s sweeping historical novel is the queer romance we’ve been waiting for.

BookPage (starred review)
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a work of historical fiction that’s as meticulously researched as it is full of raw, authentic emotion...Shout it from the highest hills: This is a beautiful, brave story, and Lily is a heroine that readers will love.

Shelf Awareness (starred review)
A riveting, emotionally stirring tale...Last Night at the Telegraph Club—focused on unapologetically embracing one's true self—is a spectacular addition to the young adult historical fiction genre.

Publishers Weekly
Smoothly referencing cultural touchstones and places with historic Chinese American significance, Lo conjures 1950s San Francisco adeptly while transcending historicity through a sincere exploration of identity and love.

Library Journal
A pensive, rich work of queer historical fiction that will reward patient readers.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In this meticulously researched title, Lo skillfully layers rich details...Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love.

Booklist (starred review)
A must-read love story in an uncommon setting…alternately heart-wrenching and satisfying.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
This immersive, powerful coming-of-age novel tackles perceptions, expectations, and identity while sweeping readers into smoky lesbian nightclubs and '50s culture.

Author Blurb Sarah Waters, international bestselling and award winning author of Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch
Lo's writing, restrained yet luscious, shimmers with the thrills of youthful desire. A lovely, memorable novel about listening to the whispers of a wayward heart and claiming a place in the world.

Author Blurb Emily X.R. Pan, New York Times bestselling author of The Astonishing Color of After
Exquisite and heart-shattering, Last Night at the Telegraph Club made me ache with wishing. This book is for anyone who has ever loved—in any sense of the word.

Author Blurb Laura Ruby, two-time National Book Award Finalist and Printz Award winning author of Bone Gap
A sweeping and romantic page-turner, the heart of this rich and ambitious historical novel is a love story that thrums with passion and self-discovery.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Anti-Chinese Sentiment Past and Present

Mannequins wearing masks that say I Am Not a VirusIn Last Night at the Telegraph Club, some of the pressure that Lily faces in her family life is related to their precarious situation as immigrants, specifically as Chinese immigrants in the aftermath of the anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism. Chinese immigrants have a long, often obscured history in the United States, which includes several exclusion acts that were essentially part of a strategy to keep U.S. immigration, and the country's citizenry, of white, European descent. Despite the gradual repeal of these measures, Sinophobia, or Anti-Chinese sentiment and racism, was prevalent in the U.S. at the time the book is set, and it still persists today, as has been made more openly apparent by some of the national discourse during the ...

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