National Book Award YA Winner & Read-Alikes

By Bailey Keimig-Gehrke, Youth Services

The National Book Awards are presented every fall by the National Book Foundation to celebrate the best writing in America. The categories include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature.

While all of the 2021 winners are probably wonderful, I was so excited to see one of my favorite 2021 releases win the award for young people’s literature: “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo.

Book Synopsis

This stunning novel is set in 1954 San Francisco where Lily Hu is grappling with her lofty dreams of working in space exploration, her newfound attraction to the only other girl in her Advanced Mathematics class (Kath Miller), and her growing awareness of the way the Red Scare is sweeping through her Chinatown community.

The restrictions placed on Lily because of her race and gender are taking their toll, and she is tired of always feeling like an outsider. In Kath, Lily finds refuge. Lily can hardly put into words what she feels for Kath, but when they visit a place called the Telegraph Club, Lily is finally able to see a world where queer women are allowed to exist without stigma.

Just as Lily begins to settle into her sexuality and her ability to fit into this new world, things fall apart. Will Lily and Kath make it in a world determined to keep girls in rigid gender role boxes? Can Lily afford to be her true self when her family’s citizenship may be at stake?

Beautiful writing brings 1950s San Francisco to life, and Lily’s ultimately uplifting story gives voice to queer communities who have historically been silenced.

From the Author

In Malinda Lo’s acceptance speech, she mentions that her first published story in 2009 was one of only 27 books containing LGBTQIA+ themes or characters, while this year saw hundreds get published. Lo expresses how excited and grateful she is for the growth, but urges readers to pay attention to the book challenges sweeping the country. She ends with a plea: “Don’t let them erase us.


For more young adult historical fiction, try out these titles:

The Downstairs Girl book cover
We Are Lost and Found book cover
Yesterday is History book cover

Check back in at the end of this January to hear all about the 2022 Youth Media Award winners and nominees from the American Library Association, including the Caldecott Medal, Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Awards, and more.

Check out our blog for more great articles!

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