And then she asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a beautiful glimpse into a moment in time of a sexual identity awareness and first love, amidst the Red Scare of McCarthyism in 1950’s San Francisco. Sexual feelings awaken for the first time within Lily Hu but everything she has been taught says it is unnatural to be attracted to women. Lily is conflicted between the duty to be a “good” Chinese daughter and following her heart. Having watched Disney’s “Turning Red”, this seems to be a challenge that young Chinese American/Canadian girls are still struggling with.
Expectations from family and herself are high; for Lily to do well in school, to get into college, then to marry and be a good Chinese American wife. But with Kathleen (Kath) Miller she’s different. With Kath, Lily can be her truest self. She can geek out over rocket ships and planetary exploration. Lily finds in Kath someone who is supportive and who also has big dreams beyond their little slice of San Francisco. You can’t help but root for her and Kath to figure it all out
It is also a story of the changing nature of friendships. Lily has been friends with Shirley Lum their whole life but time and differences have them drifting apart. Shirley is intent on keeping the friendship as it always has been while Lily questions if she wants to be friends, or if it’s just a habit.
Malinda Lo brings to life a fraught time in American history for Chinese Americans and LGBTQ folk. How fragile citizenship was when a person’s papers could be taken away. The right for LGBTQ people to assemble was not the same as freedom to exist. These are things I logically know about but it was different reading a narrative set within that time. I’m glad that Cannonball Book Club brought Last Night at the Telegraph Club to my awareness because I otherwise would have missed this gem of a book. I was thoroughly wrapped up in Lily’s story and appreciate the new perspective it gave me.