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MONTPELIER — Vermont Humanities announced that the Vermont Reads 2023 book is “Last Night at The Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo, a story that weaves actual events — such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s visit to San Francisco in 1943 — into this narrative about a teenaged girl finding her true self.

In the book, teenager Lily Hu is fully immersed in the life and culture of San Francisco’s Chinatown, home to Chinese immigrant families like hers. But as she comes of age in the 1950s, her passion for rockets and space exploration is matched by her curiosity about the Telegraph Club in a neighboring part of the city her parents have asked her to avoid. Lily and her new friend, Kathleen, begin to sneak out at night to the club, which hosts performances by Tommy Andrews, a woman who dresses and performs in a traditionally masculine style. Kath and Lily’s interest in each other continues to grow despite the very real danger faced by two girls falling in love in 1954.

At the same time, McCarthy-era fears about Communism, coupled with ongoing anti-Asian hate, shake the stability of the Chinese community and threaten to engulf Lily’s own father.

For the 21st year of the Vermont Reads program, Vermont Humanities invites communities to plan projects centered around “Last Night at The Telegraph Club” and its themes of self-acceptance, familial and cultural ties, US/China relations, LGBTQ+ and feminist history, McCarthyism and xenophobia, music of the 1940s and 1950s, and the Asian American experience, among others.

A series of monthly public events will start in June, featuring in-person and online discussions and presentations around the book’s themes. The start date for “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” community projects is July 1, and applications for projects will be accepted through June 30, 2024.

New this year, each Vermont Reads host organization receives one free discussion of the book, led by a trained facilitator.

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