Great Books for Teens 2020
Recommended and Reviewed by the Hudson Library Youth Services Staff
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (New Historical Fiction)
Under constant suspicions of Communist sympathies, threat of deportation, and general anti-Chinese discrimination, Lily Hu’s family and friends lead mostly pleasant lives punctuated with tension and the pressure to assimilate. Now 17 and increasingly aware of what makes her stand out from even her tight-knit community, Lily soon finds herself on a path that will bring equal parts joy and love, fear and shame. Having finally gathered up the courage, and having found someone to go with, she begins making regular visits to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar just outside Chinatown. There, she and her new friend Kath get a crash course in the world of butches, femmes, and relationships outside of straight conventions.
Bonded by their mutual interests in aeronautics and their clandestine late-night activities, Lily and Kath’s relationship quickly blossoms into a sweet romance. Their tenuous joy is thrown into chaos, though, when a raid on the Telegraph Club upends their lives, as was common at the time. Unlike in lesbian novels of the 1950s, though, Lily and Kath’s story gets a happy, if open-ended, resolution.
Readers curious about lesbian history and culture will find exactly what they’re looking for in Last Night at the Telegraph Club, especially in the back matter, which provides information about 1950s San Francisco, Chinese American immigration and anti-Chinese discrimination, the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race, and the early years of rocket science. Inspired by pulp fiction novels, her family’s experiences, and the tiny mentions in history books of Chinese American rocket scientists and lesbians, Malinda Lo immerses teen readers in a new, more accurate, vision of 1950s San Francisco, re-imagining the narrative of this time and place to include those formerly relegated to the shadows of history.
This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry (New Realistic Fiction)
Sixteen-year-old Izzy is quiet. Like, extremely quiet compared to her high-powered attorney parents and older siblings. She has a boyfriend who is very attentive and does all the talking for her. She thinks she is grateful for that. But, one day she almost runs into him downtown when she’s supposed to be studying, so, she ducks inside the nearest door and unwittingly signs up to do a stand-up comedy routine during the Open Mic she wandered into. So, she does it. She is enthralled with the comics she sees, and when her name is called, she takes the stage, terrified, and tells a story she had been trying to tell at home, where nobody was listening. And the people chuckle. They don’t roar or throw roses, but they don’t throw rotten tomatoes either.
Izzy, though, is in high school, and this is a bar. All the other comics are college students, so she “becomes” one, too. And so begins a clandestine life of hanging out with college students at comedy clubs, doing stand-up, and generally prying herself out of her shell. As expected, this book is funny. It is also the kind of story you want to stand up and cheer for – Izzy is an infuriating and endearing character, and her family learns the lesson that still waters do run deep and, sometimes, they’re also insightful and unexpectedly hilarious.
You Have a Match by Emma Lord (New Romance)
When Abby is talked into signing up for a DNA service by her friends, Leo and Connie, the last thing she intends to discover about herself is that she has an older sister. After a brief meeting with her new sister, Savhannah, Abby decides she will join her at summer camp to discover why her parents kept this a secret. That’s not the only reason she’s heading to summer camp: she’s hoping that taking the SAT track at camp will help ease the tension with her parents over her slipping grades.
Being a year younger, though, means that Abby is a camper and Savvy is a junior counselor. If this weren’t awkward enough, Abby also discovers that she’ll be spending her month at camp with her best friend Leo… with whom she is in love! With the support of her trusty camera, Kitty, Abby finds herself thriving at camp, finding a way to get over Leo and even, at times, getting along with her new sister. You Have a Match’s fun, energetic ensemble cast spotlights just how much can be learned from individual difference and the uniqueness of each family and relationship.