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Book club questions for Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo explore the themes of identity, forbidden love, societal expectations, and the challenges of navigating one’s sexuality in a repressive and fearful environment. The story delves into the complexities of friendship and self-discovery, shedding light on the struggles faced by individuals who are marginalized both by their sexual orientation and their cultural background.
Romantic and realistic, I loved this book from start to finish. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop and didn’t want it to end. I finished it in just two days!
What were your impressions of this novel? ✨
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
This blog post contains thoughtfully crafted book club questions tailored for Last Night at the Telegraph Club. You can also access a downloadable PDF version designed for your book clubs (available at the bottom of the post), along with supplementary suggestions for books that share similar themes and narratives. I hope you find these book club questions useful!
I’m excited to hear your unique perspectives during your book club discussions.
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section!
About the Story
Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows the story of seventeen-year-old Lily Hu and her newfound feelings for Kathleen Miller. Their romance blossoms when they step into a lesbian bar named the Telegraph Club.
Set in 1954, the book navigates the challenges of love and identity amidst the backdrop of a less accepting society, where McCarthyism and anti-Chinese sentiment cast shadows over their relationship and aspirations.
With Lily’s father facing deportation and societal pressures mounting, Lily and Kath must summon courage to defy the norms and express their love openly.
About the Author
Her novel “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” has earned prestigious awards like the National Book Award and Stonewall Book Award. Garnering 15 starred reviews, her works have also been finalists for esteemed awards such as the Andre Norton Award and the Lambda Literary Award.
Honored as a Great Immigrant by the Carnegie Corporation, Lo’s literary influence extends to prominent platforms like The New York Times, NPR, Autostraddle, and The Horn Book.
She lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their dog.
Book Club Questions for Last Night at the Telegraph Club
1. In the Prologue, what thematic elements and conflicts does Lo establish for the novel, particularly concerning race, nationalism, culture, and gender dynamics? (Prologue)
2. Upon returning home from the Eastern Pearl, Lily adds the Tommy Andrews ad for the Telegraph Club to her collection of newspaper clippings. Why does this assortment hold significance for her, and what does it reveal about Lily’s state of mind at this juncture in the narrative? (Chapter 2)
3. After discovering Strange Season at Thrifty Drug Store, Lily feels a sense of exhilaration, as if she’s unlocked a vital code. What self-discovery has Lily made, and why does the pulp novel hold such importance in her personal journey? (Chapter 5)
4. Following Lily’s father’s FBI interrogation, he remarks, “We’re living in a complicated time. People are afraid of things they don’t understand, and we need to show that we’re Americans first.” What prompts his statement, and what are the implications for the Hu family? In what ways might this experience resonate with the challenges faced by contemporary immigrants? (Chapter 9)
5. Lily confides in Kath about her aspiration to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but not everyone in her life supports this dream. How does Lily’s passion for space set her apart from, or align her with, the other women in her life? (Chapter 12)
6. Shirley “cautions” Lily about Kath and later rejects Lily for not returning inside during the dance. What significance does Shirley’s friendship with Lily hold within the narrative? (Chapter 15)
7. Kath obtains a fake ID for Lily to enable them to enter the Telegraph Club despite being underage. What aspect of the forged document troubles Lily? (Chapter 18)
8. Lo employs the automated dioramas at Playland’s Musée Mécanique as a metaphor for Lily and Kath’s romantic emotions. What message is Lo conveying in this particular scene, and how does she revisit this metaphor later in the narrative? (Chapter 22)
9. While at the Telegraph Club, Lily and Kath overhear discussions about being “butch” or “femme,” and Lily realizes that “baby butch” is a complimentary term when applied to Kath. Apart from this instance, in what other ways do Lily and Kath become acquainted with lesbian culture during the 1950s? (Chapter 25)
10. During their time at Sutro’s, Lo highlights racial tensions and racism between Caucasian and Chinese Americans, triggered by Lily and Shirley being mistaken as Japanese. How does Lo effectively depict this tension, and why do Lily and Shirley respond the way they do? (Chapter 27)
11. Lily perceives a distinction in the way the women at the Telegraph Club discuss “the feds” and communism. How is this conversation either different or similar to the dialogue Lily has with her parents regarding the FBI’s suspicions about Chinese Americans? (Chapter 30)
12. Once again, Lily encounters microaggressions while mingling with the Telegraph Club’s women. However, this time she also learns about a Chinese male impersonator, evoking a sense of immediate pride in her. Why does Lo juxtapose these two encounters? When else does Lily encounter racial prejudice within the lesbian community? (Chapter 31)
13. Lily witnesses Shirley stepping out of Calvin’s car, yet she refrains from revealing this to her parents. What drives her to keep Shirley’s secret? (And why doesn’t Shirley keep hers?) (Chapter 36)
14. Lo concludes Parts I-V with recollections from Joseph and Grace, Lily’s parents, and Judy, her aunt. How do these flashback scenes contribute to the overall narrative of the story? (End of parts I-V)
15. When Lily’s mother asserts, “There are no homosexuals in this family. […] Are you my daughter?”, what message is she conveying? How does Lily respond to this and why? (Chapter 40)
16. If Lily had not remembered Lana’s address or if Lana had not offered her shelter, what might have befallen Lily after she ran away from home? (Chapter 41-42)
17. When Lily discloses her identity to her parents, it’s complicated by her father’s immigration status and the socio-cultural climate of the 1950s. Despite this, she refuses to deceive them. What motivates the choices she makes in this pivotal moment? (Chapter 47)
18. When Lily reflects, “This was the world,” during her train journey to Pasadena, what does she intend to convey? How does your interpretation of this phrase impact your understanding of the subsequent events? (Chapter 48)
19. The political and social climate of the 1950s, including McCarthyism and anti-Communist sentiment, plays a significant role in the novel. How does Malinda Lo use these historical events to create a backdrop that intensifies the struggles of Lily, Kath, and their community?
20. The story comes to a close with Lily reflecting on the passage of time and the enduring impact of her experiences. How does the epilogue provide a sense of closure while also leaving room for the readers’ interpretation of Lily’s future?
“The Price of Salt meets Saving Face in this gripping historical thriller from the celebrated author of Ash…. Last Night at the Telegraph Club is proof of Lo’s skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger.“—O, The Oprah Magazine
“This queer coming-out and coming-of-age story reverberates with dangers, dilemma and a dream deferred.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A must-read love story…alternately heart-wrenching and satisfying.”—Booklist, starred review
Hope you enjoyed the book club discussion questions and reading guide for Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo!
Here are some more of my book club recommendations related to this book:
A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo
Last Night at the Telegraph Club author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful queer coming-of-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage.
Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends—one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West. Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable—for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.
And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, A Scatter of Light also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother. Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks.
Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.
She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott
Alex Blackwood is a little bit headstrong, with a dash of chaos and a whole lot of flirt. She knows how to get the girl. Keeping her on the other hand…not so much. Molly Parker has everything in her life totally in control, except for her complete awkwardness with just about anyone besides her mom. She knows she’s in love with the impossibly cool Cora Myers. She just…hasn’t actually talked to her yet.
Alex and Molly don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same college campus. But when Alex, fresh off a bad (but hopefully not permanent) breakup, discovers Molly’s hidden crush as their paths cross the night before classes start, they realize they might have a common interest after all.
Because maybe if Alex volunteers to help Molly learn how to get her dream girl to fall for her, she can prove to her ex that she’s not a selfish flirt. That she’s ready for an actual commitment. And while Alex is the last person Molly would ever think she could trust, she can’t deny Alex knows what she’s doing with girls, unlike her.
As the two embark on their five-step plans to get their girls to fall for them, though, they both begin to wonder if maybe they’re the ones falling…for each other.
Feel free to distribute these discussion questions to your book club members before your meeting. Simply click the link below to download and print the PDF file.
Happy reading! ❤️