Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022) Featured Review of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club Cover Art

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Penguin Random House / Dutton Books
Publication Date: January 19, 2021
ISBN: 978-0525555254

17-year-old Chinese American Lily Hu has always felt a little bit different. Growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown provides Lily with a sense of community, but the strict social mores of 1954 frequently leave her feeling stifled in ways she can’t quite put her finger on. Even more confusing for Lily is her new preoccupation with an advertisement she has stumbled upon featuring a male impersonator at the Telegraph Club. When she accidentally drops the ad in front of her white friend Kath, she’s shocked when Kath tells her that she’s been before and would be willing to go again with Lily. When Lily finally visits the Telegraph Club with Kath, she discovers not only that lesbian women exist outside of pulpy thrillers, but that she might be one. 

1950s San Francisco comes to life in this lush historical novel. Readers will not only learn what it would be like to grow up Chinese American at a uniquely difficult time – the Chinese Exclusion Act had ended, but McCarthyism’s anti-communist sentiments were still going strong – but they’ll also learn quite a bit about LGBTQIA+ history. The narrative is mostly from Lily’s perspective, but chapters from other family members’ points of view provide historical and cultural context. Also included are timelines, an author’s note, and resources for further research. 

Readers interested in learning more about LGBTQIA+ history, particularly in the 1950’s should also check out Robin Talley’s Pulp and Lies We Tell Ourselves. For those interested in learning more about Chinese Americans in various historical settings, Stacey Lee’s books would fit the bill perfectly, particularly Outrun the Moon, which also takes place in San Francisco. 

Courtney Waters (she/her)

Other Nominated Titles

  • What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson (April 6, 2021)
  • Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan (May 18, 2021)
  • In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens (April 20, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten. The previous years’ lists are available on The Hub.