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Last night at the Telegraph Club
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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 by The 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 was Strange 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 blouse and slid the fabric over Patrice's shoulder, stroking her breasts. Patrice let out a sigh of pure pleasure. "Kiss me now," Patrice whispered. Maxine obeyed, and the sensation of Patrice's mouth against hers was a delight far beyond shame. Lily heard the creak of wheels rolling in her direction, and she quickly peeked around the book rack, her skin flushed. A clerk was pushing a metal cart stacked with boxes of Kleenex past the shelves of Modess and Kotex. She hurriedly closed the book and stuffed it into the rack behind the novel Framed in Guilt . She sidled over to the next rack--­science fiction--­and pretended to peruse the books. Her position enabled her to keep an eye on the clerk, who was restocking the shelves at the end of the aisle. She itched to return to Strange Season , but she didn't dare read it while the clerk was so nearby--­and she could never, ever buy it. The clerk was moving so slowly she felt as if she might jump out of her skin.Usually the science fiction rack was her favorite, but today her eyes skipped over the cover illustrations of planets and rocket ships without registering them. She couldn't stop imagining Patrice and Maxine on that couch together. She wanted to know--­she needed to know--­what happened next, but as the minutes ticked past, she realized she wouldn't find out today. She had to go get Frankie from school. She cast one last look at the rack that held Strange Season , and left. Excerpted from Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Fiction/Biography Profile
Lily Hu (Female), Chinese American, Falls in love with her friend
Kathleen Miller (Female), Falls in love with her friend
Young adult
Young women
Falling in love
First loves
Club scene
1950s lifestyle
San Francisco, California - West (U.S.)
Time Period
1954 -- 20th century
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews
Publishers Weekly Review
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. (Jan.)
School Library Journal Review
Gr 9 Up--Chinese American Lily lives in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1950s and chafes against the societal and family norms enforced on her. When she gets to know Kath, a classmate whom she had never paid attention to before, her world opens up in unexpected ways. Together the 17-year-old girls visit a risqué nightclub and discover new friends and ideas. Political tensions from the 1950s--communism and McCarthyism, racial discrimination, and homophobia--color the audio with authenticity and a deeper historical meaning. Read by Emily Woo Zeller, who narrates in a quiet, restrained way, the audio immerses listeners in Lily's world. Zeller voices each character distinctly and with personality. Lily's confusion and angst as she tries to balance this new way of life with her traditional upbringing and familial expectations are performed with compassion. Historical time lines and flashbacks to Lily's parents as teens appear throughout. A lengthy author's note completes the well-researched recording, with historical context and the author's personal ties to the story. VERDICT Highly recommended. This 2021 YA National Book Award winner does not disappoint.--Julie Paladino
Booklist 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.
Horn Book Review
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. Jennifer Hubert Swan March/April 2021 p.95(c) Copyright 2021. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Review
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 (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Winner of the National Book Award
A New York Times Bestseller

"The queer romance we've been waiting for."-- Ms. Magazine

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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