Very happy that I’m getting my review in just under the wire! This is not a book that I probably would have picked up on my own, but I’m very glad that I read it.
Lily Hu is a good Chinese daughter, living in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954 with her parents and two younger brothers. Lily studies hard, has a Chinese best friend, Shirley, and dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab with her Aunt Judy. But Lily doesn’t quite seem to fit in – her friends think her interest in math and rockets is a little strange, and the idea that her friend, Will Chan, might want to date her makes Lily anxious, not excited. But her new friend, Kath (the only other girl in her math class, with dreams of becoming a pilot), doesn’t think Lily is strange at all. When Lily finds a pulpy paperback in the drugstore featuring a lesbian couple, Lily is both scandalized…and intrigued. Kath confirms that such a thing is possible, and offers to take Lily to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar with a male impersonator.
What follows is Lily’s journey to understand herself – who she is, what she wants, and her place in the world. Over the course of repeated visits to the Telegraph Club, Lily meets a number of lesbian women, who, just by their existence, demonstrate a multitude of ways to be.
This is, however, 1954, and “out and proud” is not really a thing. Lo shows us the many difficult choices that gay women were forced to make, and we see Lily face those same challenges. When the Telegraph Club is raided by the police and Lily is seen leaving the Club, she decided to come out to her mother…and it does not go well. The last 50 or so pages of the book were incredibly heart-wrenching, as Lily deals with the fallout of her decision.
At this point in my life, I am closer in age (and situation) to Lily’s mother, than to Lily. I found myself so angry at her mother – and even her aunt! – for the way they handled Lily’s coming out. I know that their attitudes were certainly historically and culturally accurate, but my heart really hurt for Lily. I am so thankful for the women, like the ones Lily meets, who came before, who paved the way and paid the price for future generations to be a little bit more free.