'Last Night at the Telegraph Club' unanimously survives joint high school review committee

A book challenge accused the novel of explicit descriptions of sexual conduct, but the committee found it to be a relatable coming-of-age story.

"Last Night at the Telegraph Club" will stay on the shelves at Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas High Schools.
"Last Night at the Telegraph Club" will stay on the shelves at Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas High Schools.
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A joint Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School book review committee has voted unanimously to retain “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” for both schools.

A group of eight — three administrators per school and one parent per school — met on Tuesday, March 7, to review the book. 

The book is one of 20 that have been challenged in Flagler County’s public schools  by people who consider the texts inappropriate for school children.

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” by Malinda Lo, was accused of having pornographic material and material “not appropriate for the age of student,” according to the original challenge request. 

The complaint alleged that the book contains nudity and explicit sexual activities, but the review committee disagreed, finding the book to be, instead, a coming-of-age story that relates well to modern issues teenagers face.

Lo’s book is a historical fiction story that follows a 17-year-old Chinese-American girl in 1954 America during the Red  Scare, the rise in hysteria over the communist threat during the Cold War, according to the book’s synopsis. 

The main character faces racism and the plight of being one of the only girls in her high-level math classes, and falls in love — with another girl.

The main character, Lily, and her love interest do go into a lesbian club in the book, as minors — those pages are listed among the eight pages the complaint said had explicit content. 

But on three of the eight pages, the committee members couldn’t find anything objectionable.

Indeed, all of the “explicit” content was written in vague and implied terms, the committee found. 

On page 296 — one of the pages listed as having objectionable material — the main character kisses her crush, but the description is so vague that one member had to show another where it was on the page.

Overall, the committee members said, the book focuses more on cultural issues between immigrant parents and their first-generation children, as well as the racism minority groups have felt in America, especially in times of crisis — relating the anti-Asian sentiment in the book to what Asian Americans experienced during the rise of COVID-19, and Muslims after 9/11.

“You could pluck Lily out of the ’50s and into today, and it would be [the same story],” a committee member said.

Those themes, and the anti-LGBT sentiment described in the novel, are topics teenagers in 2023 can relate to, committee members said.

“Someone reading this story could say, ‘This is how I feel; this is what I’m going through,’” one committee member said.

The book also explores how relationships can change between kids and their parents as well as with their friends, the committee said, and it teaches teenagers to have empathy for those who are different by providing representation across multiple minority groups.

“Anyone who has drifted from a best friend or their parents will relate,” one committee member said.


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