Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed author of several young adult books, including most recently the historical novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club. 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.
Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.
“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
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.
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.
Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.
Thoughts and Themes: It took me longer than intended to get through this book. At first it was because the story was quite slow and I was having difficulty getting engaged, but then it was because it was bringing up memories of the past for me and I had to take a minute to take care of myself. While I did have to take a step back because of the feelings this book was causing, I loved that this book took me back to my high school years and that feeling of falling in love for the first time.
I rarely read historical fiction but I really enjoyed this story and really enjoyed how this story feels like you are there with the characters. Throughout this story I felt that I was there walking the streets of San Francisco with Lily and there at the telegraph club with her. I liked all of the descriptions that are provided through this book and enjoyed getting to see San Francisco through a different time and parts of San Francisco that I had not seen before.
I also really liked the relationship between Lily and Kath and how that relationship develops from their friendship. I liked seeing how Lily was questioning her sexuality and how she didn’t want to be out as a lesbian. I thought it was great that we see the fear that hew new found sexuality installed in her but saw how that changed once she fell in love with Kath.
Characters: There is a range of characters that you are introduced to throughout this story and each of them are relatable. I really liked getting to know Lily and the rest of the people that she comes into contact with. I like that you start with Lily not knowing a lot about herself and questioning her sexuality. I think that it was great that we get to see that she is questioning this and then we see the moment where she confirms that she is a lesbian.
The story is slow paced throughout the whole book even when action scenes take place. I really liked the pacing of this story though because you watch as Lily and Kath’s relationship slowly develops over time. The pacing allows you to see the small aspects of this relationship and the little details that go into them sharing their feelings with each other.
Writing Style: This story is written in third person and goes back and forth to their present time and the past. We get to see the perspective from Judy as well as the story told by following Lily. I really liked that we got to see some snippets from when lily was younger as well as some parts of her family’s history.