Official book description:
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
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.
This book turned out to be something very different from what I was expecting, and I’m still not sure if I would have rated it higher and it would have taken me less than almost a month to finish it if it came along at a different time. It certainly keeps appearing on all sorts of “Must Read” lists, and seems both critically acclaimed and highly rated by regular readers. The book description tells us that it’s going to be the forbidden love story of two young women in 1950s San Francisco, but while the book also features a Chinese American woman gradually realising that she’s falling for one of her classmates, and them sneaking out at night to visit a lesbian bar, it seems almost like a subplot. Lily’s identity as a lesbian is a lot less focused on than her place as a Chinese American, bound between personal wishes and desires, and the duty to her family and community, growing up in a paranoid society where the government is in a panic, hunting Communists everywhere.
Lily’s father is a respected doctor, but he nevertheless has his papers taken away because he refuses to confirm or deny one way or another that one of his patients is a Communist. Lily’s mother is a nurse, deeply concerned with propriety and making sure that their family’s reputation is spotless. Lily’s Chinese American friends all only seem interested in dresses, older boys, and dating, while she wants to study advanced math and science and dreams of becoming an engineer, and maybe even going to space one day. The only other girl in her advanced math class, Catholic Kath Miller wants to be a mechanic and a pilot, not exactly your traditional career path for a young woman in the 1950s either. Lily initially strikes up the friendship with Cath because they are the only two girls in their class, but it’s revealed late in the book that Cath was aware of and taken with Lily long before they actually became friends, and later more.
Full review here.