Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Out Now from Dutton Books; 416 pages
Content Warning: Homophobia; Lesbophobia; Miscarriage; Misogyny; Racial slurs; Racism; Deportation; Mild sexual description
About the Author: “Malinda Lo is the National Book Award-winning, bestselling author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which was named a Best Book of 2021 by NPR, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, and was a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist.”
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Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a wonderfully queer love story between two women set in the 1950s amidst America’s growing fear of Communism, and centrally features a slow-building romance between Lily Hu and her first-ever White friend Kathleen. Lily balances a traditional home life in San Francisco’s Chinatown district with a secretive but freeing nightlife at the Telegraph Club lesbian bar. As Lily’s young adult life and a first romance develop she faces stereotyping in both queer and Chinese spaces, and the story is further flushed out with intense research. Malinda Lo prominently features historical events to background her lesbian coming-of-age story.
The in-depth and descriptive way that Lo writes was the first thing that drew me into Last Night at the Telegraph Club, as a young Lily Hu moves through adolescence in a post-World War II America where both her queerness and ethnicity are in direct contrast with her family’s desire to conform and prosper. Lily has a growing interest in science and rockets that parallels the competitive nature of space exploration, and her natural curiosity follows through as she develops a romantic relationship with Kathleen and increasingly frequents the lesbian Telegraph Club very separate from her home and social lives. Key to my enjoyment of Lo’s novel was the reprieve that Lily finds in her relationship with Kath that allows both young women to accept themselves in an era that would otherwise want them to hide their true selves.
PRR Writer and Editor, Kayla Chandler