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Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Last Night at the Telegraph Club
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A Finalist for the National Book Award"Proof of Malinda Lo's skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger."—O: The Oprah Magazine"The queer romance we’ve been...
A Finalist for the National Book Award"Proof of Malinda Lo's skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger."—O: The Oprah Magazine"The queer romance we’ve been...
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  • A Finalist for the National Book Award

    "Proof of Malinda Lo's skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger."—O: The Oprah Magazine

    "The queer romance we’ve been waiting for.”—Ms. Magazine

    "Restrained yet luscious."—Sarah Waters, bestselling author of Tipping the Velvet

    A National Bestseller

    Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can't remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible. 

    But 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.
 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book

    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 byThe 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, retreating behind it so that she was hidden from view. The women on these book covers seemed to have a lot of trouble keeping their clothes on. The men loomed behind them or clutched them in muscular arms, bending the women’s bodies backward so that their breasts pointed up.

    There was something disturbing about the illustrations—­and it wasn’t the leering men. It was the women’s pliant bodies, their bare legs and lush breasts, mouths like shiny red candies. One of the books had two women on the cover, a blonde and a brunette. The blonde wore a pink negligee and knelt on the ground, eyes cast down demurely while the shapely brunette lurked behind her. The title wasStrange Season, and the tagline read, “She couldn’t escape the unnatural desires of her heart.”

    An electric thrill went through Lily. She glanced around the edge of the book rack, sharply conscious that she was still in public, but although she could hear the ringing of the cash register at the front of the store, she didn’t see anyone approaching her corner. She went back to the book, opening it carefully so that she didn’t crease the spine, and began to read. The book was about two women in New York City: a young and inexperienced blonde, Patrice; and an older brunette, Maxine. When Patrice was jilted by her boyfriend in public, Maxine took pity on her and helped her get home. Thus began their somewhat confusing relationship, which veered from Maxine setting up Patrice with new men, to strangely suggestive conversations between the two women.

    About halfway through the book, things took a turn. Patrice arrived unexpectedly at Maxine’s Fifth Avenue penthouse, distraught after a bad date, and Maxine began to comfort her.

    “Why do I want to kiss you?” Patrice whispered as Maxine stroked her long blond hair.

    Maxine’s fingers jerked, but then she resumed the rhythmic petting. “I don’t know, Patty, why do you?”

    Patrice twisted around on the couch, rising to her knees. “Max, I’d rather be here with you than on any date!”

    Lily turned the page, her heart racing, and she could barely believe what she read next.

    Maxine pushed Patrice back against the velvet cushions, lowering her mouth to the girl’s creamy skin. “You’re like me, Patrice. Stop fighting the possibility.” Patrice whimpered as Maxine pressed her lips to her neck.

    “Max, what are you doing?” Patrice gasped. “This is shameful.”

    “You know what I’m doing,” Maxine whispered. She unbuttoned Patrice’s...

Reviews-

  • Booklist

    November 1, 2020
    Grades 9-12 *Starred Review* For 17-year-old Lily Hu, San Francisco's Chinatown during the 1950s is home to her community and culture. However, despite having friends and loving parents, she struggles with a sense of belonging. Rather than fixating on boys, like her friends, Lily dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab (where her aunt works) and traveling to Mars. Slowly, Lily realizes that more than her life goals are in play here, as she recognizes that she is attracted to women rather than men. That includes Kath, the other girl in her math class, whose goal is to fly airplanes. After the two connect over an ad for a male impersonator at the Telegraph Club and begin frequenting the establishment, Lily's life changes forever. Fearful of exposing her feelings and of her family being labeled Communists (as a result of the Lavender Scare), Lily is faced with hard decisions about herself and those she loves. Writing beautifully with a knowing, gentle hand that balances Lily's unease and courage, Lo presents a must-read love story in an uncommon setting: the midcentury queer Bay Area at a time when racism, homophobia, and McCarthyism held tight grips on the citizenry. The author's notes are a wealth of historical information and discuss the seed from which this alternately heart-wrenching and satisfying story grew.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2020
    Finally, the intersectional, lesbian, historical teen novel so many readers have been waiting for. Lily Hu has spent all her life in San Francisco's Chinatown, keeping mostly to her Chinese American community both in and out of school. As she makes her way through her teen years in the 1950s, she starts growing apart from her childhood friends as her passion for rockets and space exploration grows--along with her curiosity about a few blocks in the city that her parents have warned her to avoid. A budding relationship develops with her first White friend, Kathleen, and together they sneak out to the Telegraph Club lesbian bar, where they begin to explore their sexuality as well as their relationship to each other. Lo's lovely, realistic, and queer-positive tale is a slow burn, following Lily's own gradual realization of her sexuality while she learns how to code-switch between being ostensibly heterosexual Chinatown Lily and lesbian Telegraph Bar Lily. In this meticulously researched title, Lo skillfully layers rich details, such as how Lily has to deal with microaggressions from gay and straight women alike and how all of Chinatown has to be careful of the insidious threat of McCarthyism. Actual events, such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek's 1943 visit to San Francisco, form a backdrop to this story of a journey toward finding one's authentic self. Beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love. (author's note) (Historical romance. 14-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    January 1, 2021

    Gr 9 Up-It's 1954 San Francisco, and 17-year-old Lily Hu is the epitome of a "good Chinese girl": She's modest, respectful of her parents, and her most outlandish interest is rocket science. Then she finds a magazine ad for Tommy Andrews, male impersonator at the Telegraph Club, and everything changes. She befriends classmate Kathleen Miller, who's into airplanes and knows about the Telegraph Club too, and all of her unspoken feelings begin tumbling out. The pair sneak out to the club, and Lily is both overwhelmed and thrilled as she is enveloped by the San Francisco lesbian scene. But the girls' secret is dangerous; it threatens Lily's oldest friendships and even her father's citizenship status. Eventually, Lily must decide if owning her truth is worth everything she's ever known. Lo's historical novel is a meditative exploration of a young gay Chinese American girl in the 1950s. While there are many compelling tenets woven throughout Lily's journey (racism, anti-Communism, her Chinese family's relationship to their American identity), an abundance of detail weighs down the plot. The focus on world-building is at times heavy-handed, causing repetitiveness and rendering Lily and Kath's relationship the slowest of burns. Lo's prose comes alive when describing Lily's blossoming awareness of desire; readers will be enthralled with her breathless, confusing experience of seeing the long-awaited Tommy Andrews and finally expressing her feelings for Kath. The ending is devastatingly realistic for its time, but an epilogue shimmers with a gloss of hope. VERDICT A pensive, rich work of queer historical fiction that will reward patient readers.-Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal

    Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 25, 2021
    The year is 1954, and American-born Chinese 17-year-old Lily Hu, a rising senior at San Francisco’s Galileo High School, discovers the existence of the Telegraph Club nightclub by chance: via an ad in the Chronicle featuring a Male Impersonator. Lily secretly gathers photos of women with masculine qualities; she’s drawn toward “unfeminine” clothing and interests such as chemistry, engines, and space. Dawning recognition of her lesbianism comes alongside a budding connection with Kathleen Miller, a white classmate. But openly exploring queerness isn’t an option—not with her mother touting “respectability,” and society’s limited perception of Chinese-Americanness as either “China doll” or “real American”-adjacent, and especially not amid McCarthyism—during which Chinese people, including those within Lily’s close Chinatown community, are targeted as Communist sympathizers. As Lily falls deeper in love, though, she must work to balance the shifting elements of her identity with a landscape of sociopolitical turmoil that will resonate with contemporary readers. Lo incorporates Chinese food and language, appending explanatory footnotes for romanized Cantonese and Mandarin terms and characters. 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. Back matter includes an author’s note explaining Lo’s personal connection to the story. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.

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