[Review] “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” is an important representation of both the LGBTQ+ community and Chinese Americans


Aubrey LaTorre

Last Night At the Telegraph Club is a national award winning book. The book is a great story about two girls falling in love at a bar.

Mariapaz Santacoloma, Graphic Designer

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” is a great story for teens and adults that enjoy sapphic romance. The story is set in 1950, following Lily Hu, a young Chinese American girl from Chinatown, San Francisco, CA. With both her parents setting high standards for her as an immigrant daughter, she feels obligated to fulfill the role of the “perfect” daughter.

Lily Hu meets Kathleen Miller, also known as Kath, in her Senior Goals class. She instantly senses a connection with her and wants to become friends. Lily’s best friend Shirley Lum warns her about girls like Kathleen Miller, girls who have a close friend that has been expelled from school for “homosexual activities.” She tells Lily she shouldn’t get close to her because she did not want to be involved with any type of scandalous allegations.

The story takes an interesting turn of events after both Lily and Kath discover their mutual interest for a male impersonator nightclub called The Telegraph Club. Lily starts to explore a new side of herself that she had previously been scared to acknowledge. She eventually realizes that she likes Kath romantically, and her curiosity for the male impersonator Tommy Andrews was more of a celebrity crush than basic interest.

I really liked how this book was the perfect mixture of historical references and romance. It was set in a time when there was a lot of war and insecurity for Asian Americans because of the Korean War and the Chinese Exclusion Act. The writer, Malinda Lo, seemed to integrate both issues perfectly, and she also manages to include aspects of Chinese culture into the novel like, Chinglish, when the characters speak predominantly in English but throw in some Chinese words. She also includes Chinese holidays like Chinese new year and cultural food all through the book, which adds a nice touch to the storyline.

The slow burn romance aspect of this story was perfect; it was very well written and highlighted the LGBTQ+ Asian community that is not frequently represented in media. The novel builds Lily and Kath’s friendship in a way where it seemed very innocent then to a yearning relationship between the two, that in the end when they have finally accepted their feelings for each other it ends up separating them.

A unique detail about this novel is the lengthy author note including; on language, the 1950s, San Francisco, Chinatown and Chinese Americans, lesbian, gender and community. The book itself was very well-structured all throughout, it had timelines that matched the historical event with the story happening in the chapter.

Although Last Night at the Telegraph Club focuses on Lily and Kath’s hidden relationship, it also talks about the struggles of feeling stuck in a closed-minded community, which for Lily is her Chinatown village, but also brings the rich Chinese culture into the storyline, making it a very enjoyable read.

The lively cover art was the perfect eye-catching detail with a colorful title and city night lights illustrated with the traditional pagoda style buildings. Adding the two main characters under a streetlight highlights the love they share in secret. I thought this was beautiful because in the 50s, it was a dangerous time to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, with homophobic laws and hate crimes spreading throughout the country. The novel can be bought at Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon or any book store.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is an important read for both Chinese Americans and the LGBTQ+ community, especially the lesbian community, for the representation it brings. I found this book relatable, because of the guilt and judgement the main character felt for being gay and because of her culture and ethnic community. Readers will be instantly drawn to this heartwarming story about two girls who just want to love each other freely.