Words That Sustain Me: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

The book “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo is a wonderful story that weaves together Chinese-American heritage, 1950’s “Red Scare” paranoia, and forbidden love. Ali recommended this book telling me that it was a great one. When I got it I began to read and could not put it down and read it cover to cover in about twelve hours. When I set it down I noticed the blurb on the front cover, “This book is for anyone who has ever loved — in any sense of the word.” I agree one hundred percent.

I could identify with so much in this book. I am a child born to Mexican-American parents who were both born in the 1930’s who grew up in a racist deep south. My parents went to segregated schools and like Black and Chinese folk, they were considered second class citizens. When the main character Lily’s parents are traumatized in this matter, I felt that on a deep personal level.

When Lily is becoming aware of her sexuality and begins to fall in love I was reminded of what it was like the first time I fell in love and how much of my life was consumed with feelings for her. I loved the way the writer painted Lily’s feelings on these pages for us to see and feel.

I also appreciated the writer using this book to educate the world about the manner in which the government treated LGBTQ people. In the 1950’s it was a crime to be Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans or Queer, and homosexuality was categorized as a psychological disorder themselves. In my opinion, I believe this book had to have been written to bring to light those sings of old. And I am so grateful Malinda Lo wrote it.

From me, what I enjoyed the most about “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” was the detailed, atmospheric writing that made the club scenes come alive. I could see the neon signs, I could smell the cigarette smoke and taste the beer! And to experience the signing performance through Lily’s perspective was superb. I loved it.

It was funny, reading about Lily’s first time experiences of going to a club/bar, and to an after hours party at some older friend’s house, not really sure if you “deserve” to be there took me back to another time to when I was experiencing these things for the first time in my life. That was great and one of my favorite things about this book.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Who’s your first, Lily?” Claire asked, turning to face her. “Your first love?”

Kath. But she couldn’t say it. She thought of Shirley and how certain she’d sounded. “How am I supposed to know?” She asked instead. “What’s it supposed to be like?”

Lana and Claire traded tiny smiles, and Claire asked gently, “What’s what supposed to be like?”

Lily slumped back against the sofa, feeling boneless and muddled. “Falling in love, I guess.”

“You know,” Claire said. “It’s unmistakable.”

(How she could recognize Kath at the other end of a crowded Galileo hallway by the way she walked.)

“It’s like … well, it’s like falling,” Lana said. “Falling or floating, or sinking.”

(Every time they kissed.)

“You won’t know which way is up.”

“It’s like having a fever.”

(The way the world seemed to narrow down to the tips of Kath’s fingers.)

Again, Ali’s suggestion “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” lived up to her belief that it was a great book. I loved it and have read it three times since I have gotten it. I think that says it all.