#WhereWeReadAsianLit – #ATBR2021 – Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

The April #WhereWeReadAsianLit selection!

LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB – Malinda Lo (Released January 19th, 2021)

Book Description:

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 Red Scare.

“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.

“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.”—Sarah Waters, bestselling and award winning author of Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch

Chandra’s Thoughts: 4/5 stars

A young adult, queer historical fiction, Asian-American character driven novel? FINALLY! Thank you, Lo, for this beautiful story.  Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, we are introduced to Lily.  As a Chinese American during the Red Scare time, there is real fear of being deported.  On top of that, she’s realizing her feelings for other women and is trying desperately to be the “good Chinese girl” that she’s supposed to be but also trying to find a way to seek out her actual desires – not just in her sexuality but also in continuing her education and finding her true self along the way in all aspects.

Lo certainly has done her research and it shows throughout the pages.  Lily’s experience as an Asian American and daughter of immigrants resonated greatly for me. And even when she finds her space within the Telegraph Club, she’s still shunned by other lesbians due to her Chinese ethnic background.  She can’t seem to turn around without having something against her and it’s an extremely scary time for her and for her family.  

I don’t even know how to properly put my thoughts down on this one.  There’s no doubt that Lo is an amazing writer.  The racism and homophobia happening in the 1950s is unfortunately still rampant in the present day… especially so with the pandemic and anti-asian hate going around.  It is nice though, to see how a community finds a way to make a safe space, the Telegraph Club.

This is a novel that we need out in the world.  It is extremely character driven, which did at times flow a bit slow for me but that’s just a me thing and not taking anything away from this novel.  What I focused on was Lily, her fight within the means she was given and then foraging her own path.  The relationships we see are extremely well written and I really just wanted to reach in and hug them all.

My Thoughts: 4/5 stars

Are you looking for a historical fiction YA book with a queer Asian-American lead character? Well, look no further because Malinda Lo’s LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB has everything you desire. A more character driven novel set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950’s during the Red Scare. I will start by saying that Lo did an incredible job with her research for this and it shines through in this novel. I think that’s what I love about historical fiction, when the author puts in that extra effort, you can be transported straight into this time and place and potentially learn about events or people in history.

Lily is our lead character and she’s just a Seventeen-year-old girl trying to find her place in world, but it’s not as simple as you might think. When she meets Kathleen her whole world changes when they go to the Telegraph Club together. Despite finding some comfort here, the rest of lesbian community at the Telegraph Club seems to turn her away due to her Chinese ethnicity.

Seeing Lily grow and find her place in this book was the best. A truly character driven novel and the author puts you right in her mind. A teenage girl trying to navigate pleasing her family and doing what is expected, taking control of her sexuality and pursuing her relationship with Kathleen, and on top of all of that she needs to deal with the paranoia of the Red Scare, racism, and homophobia. While the Red Scare has come and gone, unfortunately, the racism and homophobia are still very much present in our society. The only real issue I had was that the pacing felt off in a couple spots but I think it was more so me and getting out of a reading funk! Highly recommend and I definitely need more from this author.

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