Book Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Good morning! I hope everyone had an incredible long weekend (if you had one)! The Fourth of July weekend is always hard for us, because our dog, Scrappy, gets so scared. Does anyone else have dogs who are terrified of fireworks? I mean, they’re rightfully scared, they are explosives after all! As pretty as they are, they’re definitely not easy when you have a pet. I hope everyone’s pets didn’t have a terrible weekend. Tell me about your pets in the comments!!! Anyway, please enjoy my review of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo!

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Title: Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: publisher
Publication date: date
Genre: YA Historical fiction, LGBTQ+

An incredibly well researched queer historical fiction set in 1950s San Francisco

At a glance: America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. The Red-Scare threatens the people of Chinatown but Lily and Kath are willing to risk it all to see where their relationship will go.

  • 📜 Historical Fiction
  • 💞 Young Love
  • 🎂 Coming of Age
  • 🩺 Well Researched

Read this if… you love historical fiction, and you want to learn about Chinese American experience during the Red Scare, or if you love well researched novels in general

Diversity Representation: Asian author, multiple Chinese characters, large cast of queer characters

Content Warnings: Racism, homophobia, hate speech, propaganda, outdated (historically accurate) & offensive language, threats of deportation, police brutality, miscarriage

Book Review

compelling, painful, emotional, sweet, validating, well researched, well-executed

Last night at the Telegraph Club was a harder read than I anticipated. I knew this wasn’t going to be a light and fluffy book, but I didn’t anticipate how much racism and prejudice would affect me while reading it. Malinda Lo did such a good job really placing the characters in this time period. You could tell just how well researched every little bit of this story was, it was definitely a beautiful novel!

Quick Summary: Lily Hu can’t remember when it started, but the question takes firm root within her when Kathleen Miller walks into her life and takes her to the lesbian bar the Telegraph Club. But in 1950’s America is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love. How much are Lily and Kath willing to risk to see where their love can take them?

I hesitate to say this was my favorite part about this book, because it literally made me nauseous, but it was just done so well. The way that the microaggressions and macroaggressions were thrown in literally made my stomach churn. It hit so close to home that it made me incredibly uncomfortable at times. Malinda Lo really nailed it. Microaggressions that come from well-intentioned people, but still end up being racist are the ones that hit me the most, and this book is full of them. And they are done so well. The fact that I had to take a break from this book because it was just hitting too hard is truly wild to me.

I also absolutely loved how well researched it was for the time period it was set in. There are so many Asian American moments that America just seems to erase from our narrative, but this book doesn’t allow you to forget. It discusses the Red Scare and how that affected Chinese-Americans. It mentions the Japanese Internment camps that we often skim over in history. It talks about the Chinese Exclusion Act, something I personally never learned about in school at all. It really brings to the forefront so many important aspects of Asian American history but integrates them so well into the story of Lily and Kath. The entire time I was impressed. I had to take a break from this book because it was just so immersive of the time. So many of these terrifying things that the country has done that have affected Asian Americans so negatively were seamlessly integrated into the story. The more I think about it the more impressed I am!

Last Night at the Telegraph Club was incredibly well researched. If you’re reading this book, I highly recommend reading the author’s note at the end. (I always recommend you read those anyway, they’re so good and really add to my experience!) You will be able to see how much Malinda Lo put into this book, and it shows. Every little moment represents something, and I almost want to go back and reread this book to make sure I catch all of it. The historical research is just stunning.

Summing it all up

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is an incredible and well-researched novel. I am so impressed with how well integrated the historical accuracies were written into this story. It felt so real and I learned so much about the time period. Hooray for more historical fiction with Asian characters! We existed then and we exist now.

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Book Club Questions:
Last Night at the Telegraph Club

To all my book club readers, I hope this helps you facilitate a conversation around Last Night at the Telegraph Club. This book is so well researched that I’m sure you will have no trouble!

  • How did the timeline sections of the book add or detract from the story for you? Did it feel like an interruption in the narrative or an addition to add historical check points to your reading?
  • How well was Malinda Lo able to incorporate historical events into the narrative? Were you able to feel the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Red Scare and the recent Japanese Internment Camps and more through the eyes of the characters?
  • Did you feel the familial differences within the Chinese community in the book? Could you feel the differences in family pressure between Lily and Shirley?
  • Read the authors note together and see if it sparks any extra conversation!

About the Author

Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of several young adult books, including the historical novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which received eight starred reviews and was named by Oprah Magazine as one of the 50 Best LGBTQ Books That Will Heat Up the Literary Landscape in 2021. Malinda’s debut novel, Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the Lambda Literary Award for Children’s/Young Adult, and was a Kirkus 2009 Best Book for Children and Teens.

She has been a three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and her novels have been selected for many best-of lists, including the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the ALA’s Rainbow List, Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books, the Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Locus Recommended Reading List, and the James Tiptree Jr. Longlist. Malinda’s short fiction and nonfiction has been published by The New York Times, Autostraddle, Foreshadow, The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Toast, The Horn Book, and multiple anthologies.

Before she became a novelist, Malinda was an economics major, an editorial assistant, a graduate student, and an entertainment reporter. She was awarded the 2006 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association for her work at AfterEllen. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and has master’s degrees from Harvard and Stanford Universities. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog.

She writes the biweekly newsletter Lo & Behold on writing and culture, and she can be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Her website is malindalo.com.


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Let’s chat!

✨ Is this book on your radar yet?
✨ What was the last historical fiction that you read?
✨ Have you read any other books by Malinda Lo?

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Want More Diverse Book Recommendations?

Check out the rest of my blog! I’m dedicated to sharing books with you that include diversity, so feel comfortable that any books on Bookish Brews will include some diversity.

If you liked this review or thought you might like this book, check out some of my other reviews for books with similar diversity in historical fiction (plus my other review of a Malinda Lo book!):


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Last Night at the Telegraph Club sounds so good and well done, I definitely will read this one!

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