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YA Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malindo Lo

Title: Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Author: Malindo Lo
Year published: 2021
Category: YA fiction (LGBTQ romance)
Pages: 432 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)France, USA (CA)

SummarySeventeen-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.

Review: This novel won two of the ALA Youth Media Awards for 2021: the Stonewall Award for LGBTQ literature; the Asian/Pacific American Award; and it was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. I have heard such good things about this novel that I was really looking forward to reading it.

I can see why this book won the awards from the ALA. It is well written, has characters the reader can warm to, and it sheds light on an interesting time in history. The Afterword is especially well done with culture, immigration, queer history in the US, and more outlined for the reader. 

Lily is a young woman that I think many readers will understand and relate to. She is smart, trying to figure out who she is (both in terms of her sexuality and in what she wants to do with her life), and navigating that time of life between the end of high school and the start of life as an adult. And, she is doing it in a difficult time in the US when Americans were particularly wary of Asians and anyone who could possibly be communist. As a Chinese American, Lily and her family are suspect.

Lily's experiences in San Francisco gay bars, meeting male impersonators, and learning to fall in love for the first time are all done well. Lily is a quiet, calm character who is unsure of events and people around her so we read of her coming to a slow realization of who she is and what she wants out of life. It feels realistic.

Though Lily is 18, this book will appeal to both high school and adult readers.

Challenges for which this counts:  
  • Popsugar--Romance by a BIPOC author
  • YMA--Asian/Pacific American Award and Stonewall Award

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