Review of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Last Night at the Telegraph Club
by Malinda Lo
High School    Dutton    416 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-525-55525-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-55526-1    $10.99

High school senior Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954 with her medical professional parents; she behaves obediently and dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab like her aunt Judy. But she hides a secret yearning. After seeing an ad featuring “Tommy Andrews Male Impersonator,” she sneaks out to the performance at the lesbian Telegraph Club with Kath, a white classmate who shares Lily’s longing. Soon the two are club regulars, even though Lily’s parents have warned her they are being watched (after her father’s citizenship papers were confiscated by the FBI) and could be deported. When an incident at the Telegraph threatens to uncover Lily’s lesbian identity to her family, she is forced to make a difficult choice. This standout work of historical fiction combines meticulous research with tender romance to create a riveting bildungsroman. San Francisco, “with its steep stairways and sudden glimpses of the bay between tall, narrow buildings,” is almost a character itself. Interspersed flashbacks that detail the personal histories of Lily’s parents and Aunt Judy and timelines of world events further put the 1950s Chinese American experience into context for readers. Lo’s (Ash, rev. 11/09; A Line in the Dark, rev. 11/17) comprehensive author’s note includes an absorbing section on “Lesbians, Gender, and Community” and a select bibliography of print and film resources.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer Hubert Swan
Jennifer Hubert Swan is director of library services and middle school librarian at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City. She is also a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute School of Information, where she teaches youth literature and library programming. She blogs at Reading Rants.

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