Last Night at the Telegraph Club made my heart ache. In the best of ways, don’t worry! Talk about an emotional book about queer awakening, societal danger, family ostracization, and racism. At the heart of the book Lo tackles these issues while also telling a story of love, questioning, and friendship. Keep reading this book review to find out exactly what I loved.
“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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: homophobia, racism, miscarriage
I knew from the beginning of Last Night at the Telegraph Club that it would break my heart. Lo delivers a book that was destined to appeal to all my soft spots. A Chinese-American space obsessed girl coming to terms with her queer identity while also struggling with her family’s future and the growing racism against the Chinese. Not to mention her name is Lily – talk about mind meld! Lily’s story is one of feeling out of place, with everything against her. It’s about those experiences when we discover language to feelings we never knew had a name.
At the same time, Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a story about Lily struggling with her feelings and the growing insecurity of her future. To know that if she were to be public about her queer identity, it could give the government another reason to deport them. How their future depends on her maintaining the status quo. How the government doesn’t need an excuse. Lo introduces layers to Last Night at the Telegraph Club by adding POV chapters from Lily’s family. It becomes a story about the generational immigrant mentality, about their struggles for security and fears for the future. What they could lose, their collective dreams, and the histories of their past.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is an emotional story about Lily trying to discover herself. Our perpetual search for finding those locks to the hidden depths of our heart. Some of Lo’s prose shines. There were some lines about these expereinces that are wise, contained, and heart wrenching. It’s about the experiences that end up giving us (false) hopes. The secrets we have, the languages of expression we learn to hide, and the code switching. The book has fantastic resources about the historical accuracy as well as the homophobia and racism during this time period.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a stunning portrayal of searching for our identity, navigating our family, and surviving in spite of the racism and homophobia. I could not stop reading, while simultaneously wanting to savor each line. This has to be my favorite Malinda Lo book. It has all of these elements that individually speak to pieces of my heart. Combined it’s a spectacular sapphic historical fiction book.