The House of Impossible Beauties
It’s 1980 in New York City, and nowhere is the city’s glamour and energy better reflected than in the burgeoning Harlem ball scene, where seventeen-year-old Angel first comes into her own. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must bear the responsibility of tending to their house alone.As the mother of the house, Angel recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life. The Xtravaganzas must learn to navigate sex work, addiction, and persistent abuse, leaning on each other as bulwarks against a world that resists them. All are ambitious, resilient, and determined to control their own fates, even as they hurtle toward devastating consequences. Told in a voice that brims with wit, rage, tenderness, and fierce yearning, The House of Impossible Beauties is a tragic story of love, family, and the dynamism of the human spirit.

The House of Impossible Beauties Details

TitleThe House of Impossible Beauties
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2018
PublisherEcco
ISBN-139780062677006
Rating
GenreFiction, Lgbt, Historical, Historical Fiction, Glbt, Queer, Literary Fiction

The House of Impossible Beauties Review

  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    Joseph Cassara has written a heart wrenching paean to the LGBT community, a blend of fact and fiction based on the critically acclaimed documentary on the House of Xtravaganza in the 1980s and 1990s, Paris Is Burning. Set in New York, it tells of young gay and transgender characters, facing the trauma and rejection of their actual families and their efforts to set up their own chosen close knit and supportive 'family' circle that faces up to the challenges of identity, murder, abuse, brutality, Joseph Cassara has written a heart wrenching paean to the LGBT community, a blend of fact and fiction based on the critically acclaimed documentary on the House of Xtravaganza in the 1980s and 1990s, Paris Is Burning. Set in New York, it tells of young gay and transgender characters, facing the trauma and rejection of their actual families and their efforts to set up their own chosen close knit and supportive 'family' circle that faces up to the challenges of identity, murder, abuse, brutality, the horrors of the Aids crisis, hatred, prejudice and tragedy. The character driven story unfolds with verve, humour, wit, anger, and colour as it follows its inevitable trajectory with the complications of life in this era in LGBT New York. It does not shirk from the grittiness of life as a sex worker, the perils of addiction and in its depiction of the never ending abuse. 17 year old Angel, has been traumatised by the way her family has treated her. She is transfixed by the glamour and vitality of the drag scene, and hones in on the legendary drag queen, Dorian. She meets and falls for Hector, a professional dancer, but yearns to create a form of family and home for others, who like her, now have none that they can fall back on. With this in mind, Angel and Hector set up the first ever latino House of Xtravanganza within the Harlem Ball circle. Tragedy beckons as Hector faces serious health issues. Angel brings in Venus who searches for the rich man to protect and look after her, the introvert transgender Juanita who obsesses over design and fabrics and Daniel. You cannot help falling for this cast of characters and their unflinching determination to be there for each other against all that the world throws at them. I loved the humanity and courage portrayed in a lyrical narrative bursting with fizz and life affirming energy. This is a novel that is destined to leave a trail of tears and heartbreak in its wake. A wonderfully ambitious book that evokes an era, a place, a community and its history. Many thanks to Oneworld publications for an ARC.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    The House of Impossible Beauties follows four transgender kids through the heyday of the Harlem ball culture which was ground zero for the AIDS crisis. The places and characters are real but it is a fictionalized account of House Xtravaganza. I don't see the comparisons to A Little Life which is much more nuanced but this fierce, gritty novel will ultimately break your heart.
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  • Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)
    January 1, 1970
    DNF'ing this one at page 129. The deal-breaking issue I have with this book is pacing. It's moving too slowly for me. If anyone had told me I would have found a book set in 1980's NYC and written about the drag world and ball culture scene to be boring I would have laughed at them. Sadly, this is the case. I like the characters well enough but the story feels like it's going nowhere fast. I know that if I'm not drawn in at this point, I will likely never be invested fully enough to justify the t DNF'ing this one at page 129. The deal-breaking issue I have with this book is pacing. It's moving too slowly for me. If anyone had told me I would have found a book set in 1980's NYC and written about the drag world and ball culture scene to be boring I would have laughed at them. Sadly, this is the case. I like the characters well enough but the story feels like it's going nowhere fast. I know that if I'm not drawn in at this point, I will likely never be invested fully enough to justify the time spent reading. It's a shame because I was very, very much looking forward to this one and expected to love it.
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    With The House of Impossible Beauties, debut author Joseph Cassara has created a fictionalised account of the House of Xtravaganza, immortalised in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. From the backstory of key figures to the initial formation of Xtravaganza – the first all-Latinx house on the Harlem ball circuit – and beyond, we follow a cast of gay and trans performers as they fight to get off the streets, find and lose each other, and deal with the development and devastating impact of the With The House of Impossible Beauties, debut author Joseph Cassara has created a fictionalised account of the House of Xtravaganza, immortalised in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. From the backstory of key figures to the initial formation of Xtravaganza – the first all-Latinx house on the Harlem ball circuit – and beyond, we follow a cast of gay and trans performers as they fight to get off the streets, find and lose each other, and deal with the development and devastating impact of the AIDS crisis. Some of the characters are recognisable – with probably the best-known being Venus Xtravaganza – and some seem to have been reimagined to a greater degree, e.g. Angel/Angie (without doing extensive background research, it's difficult to gauge how closely or loosely any of them resemble their inspirations).The beginning of the book is stunning, positively singing with energy and potential. We meet Angel as a young teen, just starting to understand that she's trans, and trying to figure out what that means for her relationship with her mother and brother. She fights to get herself taken under the wing of legendary drag queen Dorian, and when she meets and falls in love with Hector, a dancer, the groundwork for the House of Xtravaganza is laid. There's a bit of a lull in the middle – not because the characters are uninteresting, but because the more quotidian scenes of their lives don't feel quite as original as the rest; they follow a similiar pattern to many other stories about people struggling to make ends meet. Occasionally, the narrative threatens to slip into misery-lit territory. Those familiar with Paris is Burning will know there is an unavoidable tragic development concerning one character. Thankfully, Cassara handles this difficult subject matter compassionately, and doesn't try to dramatise the event itself.The structure can feel a little random, and there's sometimes a sense that large chunks of detail that might be important to the story have been left out. Ultimately The House of Impossible Beauties is not a plot-driven novel, nor does it focus much on the ball scene itself: as much as it's a work of fiction, it's also a piece of queer history; Cassara's primary concern is the characters, what they mean to one another, and how they become family. Here, violence – whether in the form of abuse and murder, or the destruction wrought by AIDS – is part of the senseless cruelty of existence, not a mystery to be solved or a wrong to be dramatically avenged.Fierce and tender, The House of Impossible Beauties works as both novel and biography; it brims with life and tells heartbreaking stories. I'm glad this was my first book of 2018.I received an advance review copy of The House of Impossible Beauties from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Cassara has managed to capture a snapshot of hedonistic 80s culture, richly steeped in beautiful creatures and intricate backstories that interweave to create a wonderful story about an underground community that many of us knew nothing, and still know, little about. The characters have been carefully crafted with obvious love and attention to detail in order to recreate a tale full of wit and sadness in equal measure.The story is I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Cassara has managed to capture a snapshot of hedonistic 80s culture, richly steeped in beautiful creatures and intricate backstories that interweave to create a wonderful story about an underground community that many of us knew nothing, and still know, little about. The characters have been carefully crafted with obvious love and attention to detail in order to recreate a tale full of wit and sadness in equal measure.The story is told almost in a memoir style, made up of anecdotal stories centering around several key characters and their dalliances in the club underground scene while the threat of AIDs hangs over them. Although no strict storyline as such, the stories interweave in such a way that it feels like you really get to know some of the characters well over the course of the book. Characters include larger than life Venus and ultimate diva Angel. In fact, these two stand out as my favourite characters, bringing a lot of colour and life to the page in whatever scenes they appear. I found myself itching to get back to their tales over the others. It’s a book jam packed with stories, information and history and at times it seems like there’s almost too much crammed into the pages. This was sometimes to the detriment of the characters, as certain moments are passed over in favour of others and some things weren’t really developed to a great depth. I loved that the author mixed fact and fiction, but sometimes I felt it was almost trying too hard and trying to cover too much ground. I would have much preferred a story, or stories, centred around Venus and Angel and the rest as secondary characters. That said, I really enjoyed this. It’s gritty and real and never shys away from showing the hardships that the LGBT community have been through.
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  • Paula Bardell-Hedley
    January 1, 1970
    New York's underground drag ball scene flourished in the early 1980s. These glitzy, elaborately-themed events rose with meteoric intensity from the Harlem district, bringing with them an immense euphoria and camaraderie among the area's prominent LGBT population. The House of Impossible Beauties follows the often complicated lives of several homogeneous characters from their confused, abused, traumatic childhoods to the magnificent heydays of their in-your-face draggery and wild expressionism. New York's underground drag ball scene flourished in the early 1980s. These glitzy, elaborately-themed events rose with meteoric intensity from the Harlem district, bringing with them an immense euphoria and camaraderie among the area's prominent LGBT population. The House of Impossible Beauties follows the often complicated lives of several homogeneous characters from their confused, abused, traumatic childhoods to the magnificent heydays of their in-your-face draggery and wild expressionism.New Jersey born author, Joseph Cassara, readily acknowledges that several of his novel's characters are based on historical figures (Venus Xtravaganza, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey may be familiar to some readers), and locations in which much of his narrative is set, such as Christopher Street Pier - a once vibrant cruising spot, which is still a popular gathering place for young gay people - are now legendary landmarks.The House of Xtravaganza is one of the most famous and enduring 'houses' (a sort of surrogate family for individuals of mixed gender identities), brought to prominence in the groundbreaking 1990 film documentary, Paris is Burning. Cassara's protagonist, Angel – the founding member and 'Mother' of this all-Latino collective – is quite obviously based on Angie Xtravaganza, the very real transgender star of the Harlem ball scene. Her drag daughter, Venus, and other members of the group are adopted 'house children', a close-knit coterie who engage in sex work in order to survive. They strive to defend, dignify and elevate one another, but are heartbreakingly vulnerable and can do nothing to protect their beloved hermanas from a mysterious sickness, often referred to by the predominantly unsympathetic and scaremongering media as a 'gay plague'. Cassara's Hispanic trans-women and butch queens are sassy, charismatic and brave, and his exceptional debut novel is a humane microhistory of their uninhibited but precarious lives on the drag circuit of a bygone era. Many thanks to Oneworld Publications for supplying an advance review copy of this title.
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  • shady boots | #20gayteen
    January 1, 1970
    Before I share my thoughts on this book, if you enjoyed it or if you're interested to know more about ball culture, I STRONGLY IMPLORE you to watch the documentary Paris Is Burning if you haven't already. It gives a more in-depth look at the ballroom scene of 80's New York, and also introduces you to the real people behind the characters of this book, as well as many other legendary queer pioneers. It's available on YouTube here.It is important to remember this particular era in LGBTQ+ history b Before I share my thoughts on this book, if you enjoyed it or if you're interested to know more about ball culture, I STRONGLY IMPLORE you to watch the documentary Paris Is Burning if you haven't already. It gives a more in-depth look at the ballroom scene of 80's New York, and also introduces you to the real people behind the characters of this book, as well as many other legendary queer pioneers. It's available on YouTube here.It is important to remember this particular era in LGBTQ+ history because not many people realize how much it has shaped today's culture. For example, when I say "YAAASSS" and someone looks annoyed and goes "Ugh, that's such a 2016/2017 thing," when in actuality lingo like that originated within this era, along with "shade", "werk", "reading" and many others. It always irks me when people take these sayings for granted and assume it's some new made-up internet slang, when in fact the origins run deep.We wouldn't have shows like RuPaul's Drag Race if it weren't for this crucial moment in history. We have to be grateful towards our queer brothers and sisters who paved the way for us to be able to express ourselves more freely, because they were brave enough to live their truest lives at a time when the whole world was against them, when it was literally dangerous to be who they were. It's easy to take all this acceptance for granted, especially for today's queer youth, because they've been able to grow up with LGBTQ+ culture being normalized for the most part. Of course, that's great, but because of this the struggles of the ones who came before us is often forgotten and under-appreciated.Anyway, enough of my little mini-rant, let's get back to the review at hand.This was a book I never knew I wanted, quite honestly. I never thought anyone would actually write a YA novel set in the 80's ballroom scene. There was a point in my life in the past few years where I was obsessed with researching this era, along with seeing Paris Is Burning so many times to the point where I memorized many of the memorable quotes. So when I stumbled upon this book as I returned from my reading hiatus, I knew it would be high on my to-read list.I thought this was a very heartfelt story, and the author did a good job fleshing out these characters despite the fact that they are based on real people. It took me a while to get used to this book due to the fact that the 80's was such a recent era, so it was a bit strange for me to read a fictional narrative with the familiar faces I've seen so much of in Paris Is Burning as the starring roles. Reading a fictional story with real people from centuries past, like Queen Victoria or Charles Dickens for example, is one thing, but these people would likely still be alive today were it not for the AIDS crisis or the disgusting hate crimes that occurred during that time. There are most likely still people alive today who knew them personally, so it took me a while to try and separate the real historical figures from the characters in this book, but after I overcame that initial hurdle, I was in and fully invested. This was by no means a problem with the book, it was just my own issue.This book didn't shy away from the harsh reality of that era. It still crushes me how much our queer brethren suffered during that time, not only from the prejudice and cruelty of society, but also a ruthless virus that ran rampant throughout the community, as if things weren't bad enough. There were moments in this book that were tough to get through, but I found that necessary because these were the things that happened back then. The author didn't shy away from the truth or try to sugarcoat it. It's brutal and unflinching but honest.Although I realize this story is fictional, certain things did bother me like the fact that the house only had four members. The house of Xtravaganza had many other members and I feel like the author could've included that in some way, perhaps not make every single member main characters but at the very least have more than four members. Maybe the author made a conscious decision to cut down the number of characters to have the story be more intimate? I'm not sure. This didn't bother me that much, I still was very much emotionally invested in each of them. Another gripe I had that bothered me a bit more was how there was so little of the actual ball scenes. I understood that this book is much more character-driven and focuses more on the relationships between the people in the house, and I loved that, but I do wish they showed more of the actual ball competitions. Angel and Venus having attended many balls and snatched awards from them was merely a fact that was told, not shown. I wanted to see more of House Xtravaganza actually competing within these balls, their interactions with the other houses, their rise and recruitment of new members, all of that. Instead there was really only one ball sequence and only one of the members was present. It was a great scene, but it just made me yearn for more.This book did drag (no pun intended) in certain areas, and while I was never bored per se, I did skim a few things here and there at some points. But overall I found it very enjoyable and like I said, very necessary. It's a no-bullshit glimpse at what life was like for our LGBTQ+ ancestors in that era and I can't stress enough how important it is to remember and CELEBRATE their legacy. I would recommend watching Paris Is Burning before you dive into this book, if you haven't already, but either way you will be learning some crucial herstory.And most importantly, it teaches us the value of unity within the community. All of us, no matter what letter you are within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, are in this together. The rest of the world, filled with toxic masculinity and heteronormativity, is against us, so we have to remain united. We're family. You could say we're all one giant House.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    RuPaul's Drag Race has found a global audience in recent years and I've been a huge follower of it since the third season. It's still one of the highlights of my life hearing RuPaul praise my blog on his podcast. (You can listen to the audio of this at the bottom of my intro page here.) The widespread fandom of this show has popularised drag as an art form again so it seems like the right time to look back at some of the most significant drag movements of recent history. The documentary 'Paris i RuPaul's Drag Race has found a global audience in recent years and I've been a huge follower of it since the third season. It's still one of the highlights of my life hearing RuPaul praise my blog on his podcast. (You can listen to the audio of this at the bottom of my intro page here.) The widespread fandom of this show has popularised drag as an art form again so it seems like the right time to look back at some of the most significant drag movements of recent history. The documentary 'Paris is Burning' captured instances of the fiercely outrageous ball culture in NYC in the mid-to-late 1980s. One of the figures memorialised on film was a drag queen named Venus from the house of Xtravaganza, the city's first Latino drag house. In his debut novel “The House of Impossible Beauties”, Joseph Cassara fictionally recreates Venus' story as well as tales about some of the other queens who were central to this drag family. It sympathetically follows the way these marginalized individuals were often ostracised by their families, but found sisterhood and support from fellow queens. Together they created and defined a sub-culture all their own. There are many moments of high drama and camp fun, but Cassara also emphasizes the hard gritty reality of their lives which involved prostitution, habitual drug use and AIDS. The novel skilfully invokes the aesthetic and feel of the era with a language and dialogue heavily inflected with Spanish phrases and drag lingo that totally draws the reader into this bygone world.Read my full review of The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara on LonesomeReader
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  • Nat K
    January 1, 1970
    Sadly I've moved this to my DNF shelf. I'm not saying it will remain there, but I simply don't have the interest in it to continue.I hate to admit defeat with books! Obviously I start reading them because I want to. And think (or hope) that I will enjoy them. But this one simply didn't retain my interest, and I felt quite indifferent to the characters. It's not a good sign that I read SO many other books well after having started this one. It's a shame, as so many people on GR loved it. It start Sadly I've moved this to my DNF shelf. I'm not saying it will remain there, but I simply don't have the interest in it to continue.I hate to admit defeat with books! Obviously I start reading them because I want to. And think (or hope) that I will enjoy them. But this one simply didn't retain my interest, and I felt quite indifferent to the characters. It's not a good sign that I read SO many other books well after having started this one. It's a shame, as so many people on GR loved it. It started off ok, and I thought, yeh, I get it, but then it seemed more of the same...the story didn't seem to move in any particular direction. And the jargon and asides in Spanish had me pondering.I may revisit it some time. We'll see.
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  • Neil
    January 1, 1970
    First of all, a bit of history and context because I, for one, was not aware when I started this book that it is based on fact. I discovered this after about 50 pages or so when the story encouraged me to Google something and then, an hour later, I was more aware of the historical context. The book is set in New York in the period from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s.Lifted from Wikipedia:Composed primarily of African American and Latino LGBTQ men and women, members of the ballroom com First of all, a bit of history and context because I, for one, was not aware when I started this book that it is based on fact. I discovered this after about 50 pages or so when the story encouraged me to Google something and then, an hour later, I was more aware of the historical context. The book is set in New York in the period from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s.Lifted from Wikipedia:Composed primarily of African American and Latino LGBTQ men and women, members of the ballroom community traditionally form “houses” which serve the dual purpose of providing a surrogate family structure, and competing for trophies and prestige in community organized balls. Houses are traditionally formed in a family-like structure, with a house “mother” and/or “father” who oversee and direct the group. In keeping with ballroom community tradition, members take the house name as their surname (e.g. “Jose Xtravaganza”). House members compete or “walk" in balls in various categories including representations of dance, fashion, costume design, runway modeling, and gender impersonation. The dance style known as “voguing”, which went on to be popularized by Madonna’s 1990 song “Vogue”, is perhaps the mostly widely recognized stylistic form to emerge from the underground ball scene.The House of Extravaganza (original spelling) was founded in 1982 by Hector Valle, a gay man of Puerto Rican descent, recognized for his elegant and athletic style of voguing. While Hector Valle was familiar with the ballroom scene, he himself did not belong to a ball house. In the summer of 1982 he made a bold decision for the time to create an all-Latino ballroom house, in response to what was a nearly exclusive African American gay subculture. Hector undertook the task of building up the House membership among friends he socialized with in the West Village of NYC and at popular nightclubs of the era, such as the Paradise Garage. One of the first to join Hector in the new venture was a transgender teen of Puerto Rican descent who came to be known as Angie Xtravaganza and would assume the role of “house mother”. Mother Angie would quickly emerge as the dominant leader and driver of the House.The House of Impossible Beauties, as the book blurb tells us, follows a group of gay and transgender people in the New York scene described above. Primarily, we follow Angel, Venus, Daniel and Juanito. It quickly becomes clear that Angel is the Angie Xtravaganza mentioned above. Venus Xtravaganza is a real person whose murder has never been solved. We realise we are reading a fictionalised version of the history of key players in the House of Xtravaganza. For me, this added an extra dimension to the story.At the start of the book, I thought I was going to find the camp characters too much to cope with: they felt almost over the top:"Bitch," Venus said, "you’re wearing rhinestone earrings during the day and you’re gonna call me ugly?"And"No, please," the boy said. "I hate sing-alongs—unless it’s raining men, and then only for a bridge and chorus—so let’s not do this."And"Gosh," she said to him, "you have the loveliest eyebrows. You know, I got this theory that if your eyebrows are done on point, then everything else in your life just falls into place. Just falls right into place, I tell you. Isn’t that a great theory?"The other thing that takes some getting used to is the almost random insertion of Spanish words and phrases into the text. It’s not out of place given the background of the characters, but it is disconcerting for non-Spanish speakers like me to suddenly come across sentences like"No me digas que los batteries freakin’ died out on us!"But both the camp and the Spanish quickly become part of the overall context of the book and I rapidly became used to them: they were not a problem. Once you are used to these, what you get is a mostly well-told story. I say “mostly” because there were a few false notes for me. The whole book is organised into sections named after one of the main characters. Mostly this is one of the four mentioned above. But there is also a character named Dorian who you think is going to be significant but who only gets sections when when the author wants to pause for reflection. It feels like Dorian is just a holding place for philosophical thoughts rather than a person. Secondly, there are two key confrontational scenes and both these felt to me like they were rather cliched. Finally, in terms of criticism, the last section of the book suddenly becomes a lot darker (I believe there have been comparisons to A Little Life and they are only valid for this final section) and doesn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the book.However, despite these three areas where I felt the book didn’t ring quite true, the overall story is well told. I even cried at a couple of points. It’s not at all unusual to read a book about a group of friends in New York, but this one has a unique context that is vividly brought to life. This context was completely new to me. A fifty-something heterosexual Brit is a long way from the New York LGBTQ community described here, so the story was both interesting and educational. The false notes (which is a personal view that others may disagree with) just took the edge off it for me.3 stars seems slightly mean, but I don't feel it deserves 4 because of the three areas I've mentioned. This is a well-told and fascinating story.My thanks to OneWorld Publications and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
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  • Doug
    January 1, 1970
    3.5, rounded down.Like most first novels, this suffers from being a tad overwritten and under-edited. It could have easily lost 100 superfluous pages or more, which would have improved the pacing. A couple of other things that bugged me were a lack of any real plot (it just seemed like a bunch of random vignettes from the NY gay/drag scene, ca. 1976-1993, with no real through-line); the constant interjection of random Spanish words and phrases, that might have lent some verisimilitude, but made 3.5, rounded down.Like most first novels, this suffers from being a tad overwritten and under-edited. It could have easily lost 100 superfluous pages or more, which would have improved the pacing. A couple of other things that bugged me were a lack of any real plot (it just seemed like a bunch of random vignettes from the NY gay/drag scene, ca. 1976-1993, with no real through-line); the constant interjection of random Spanish words and phrases, that might have lent some verisimilitude, but made for linguistic awkwardness and tedious trips to Google Translate; and most grievously - the book is touted to be an expose of the Harlem drag scene, taking its inspiration from Jennie Livingston's award-winning documentary, 'Paris is Burning' - and yet literally less than 10 of its almost 400 pages take place at any of the competitions. That said, it was an interesting glimpse into a world few know, and several of the set pieces were memorable, albeit sometimes hard to stomach (I'm no prude, but could have done without graphic sex scenes between 13 year olds). Cassara clearly has talent, and even though this was sometimes rough going, I'd be interested in what he comes up with next.
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  • Christopher Alonso
    January 1, 1970
    Review forthcoming, but all I'm gonna say is wowowow this hurt me, and I encourage everyone to read it.
  • Gabriella
    January 1, 1970
    Joseph Cassara has written an insular, (relatively) low-glitz, immensely tragic account of queer and trans Latinx youth in 1980-90s New York. I struggle to call it “accurate” or “authentic” because like Cassara, I am not a member of the House of Xtravaganza, the first Latinx house in the Harlem ball circuit, and wasn’t alive during the AIDS epidemic, which snakes its way through this book every time you start to believe in a happy ending for these characters. I can only relate to these people gi Joseph Cassara has written an insular, (relatively) low-glitz, immensely tragic account of queer and trans Latinx youth in 1980-90s New York. I struggle to call it “accurate” or “authentic” because like Cassara, I am not a member of the House of Xtravaganza, the first Latinx house in the Harlem ball circuit, and wasn’t alive during the AIDS epidemic, which snakes its way through this book every time you start to believe in a happy ending for these characters. I can only relate to these people given my queerness, blackness, womanhood, and humanity, but on all these fronts, Hector, Angel, Venus, Juanito, and Daniel feel incredibly legitimate.I appreciated how Cassara took a story we all thought we’d understand, and inverted the timeline we’d all expect. His focus on the upbringings of the future Xtravaganzas was extremely insightful, as they show the earliest signs of their explorations with gender, love, and loss, but definitely not what you expect him to spend so much time on. Given their very short adult lives, it ultimately seemed apt to account for as much of their prior context as possible. Somewhat implausibly, I didn’t mind that there was only one ball—and a slightly underwhelming one, at that. Cassara's aim, after all, is to highlight the very real life that happens after "the clock strikes midnight,” as his most prescient reimagined character, Dorian Carey, once remarks.Make no mistake, this book is utterly heartbreaking. I would recommend being in a very positive place in your personal life before you read it, as it will completely gut you and everything you love. Every character you begin to root for, every relationship you hope will last, every dream you think will be realized, inevitably falls apart due to the very real issues these characters are battling—drug abuse, racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty, and of course, AIDS-related complications. It’s intense, but also necessary, as the real people behind these stories often passed away much too soon, and much too tragically. I think the one aspect I would’ve loved to read more of was the actual creation of the House of Xtravaganza. Much is mentioned about the novelty of having an all-Latinx house, and Joseph Cassara finds many inventive linguistic means of infusing the characters’ Puerto Rican identities elsewhere into their narratives. However, when it came to their lived experiences in the ball scene/queer community, I think he could’ve gone further—why was it so important to create their own ethnic space? What were the all-black houses missing, and what were the Xtravaganzas able to offer each other by sharing a common language and culture? Parts of these answers are made impossible by the lack of substantive black characters, save a few supporting drag queens. I also think it would’ve been easier to make this clear had Hector been present for longer, though I understand why this didn't make sense.There is a lot to appreciate in The House of Impossible Beauties, but probably also a good deal to critique. As he describes in this really fun interview, Cassara stylistically experiments with the pronouns of his trans characters in ways that one may find either insightful or offensive. His seemingly uncritical embrace of the hallmark documentary by which we know these characters, Paris is Burning, may be an affront to those who had serious problems with the film’s invasive white gaze. Cassara, a gay Puerto Rican man who was inspired by many of the characters, definitely has a more familial and respectful relationship with the Xtravaganzas. However, the fact remains that any novel seeking to posthumously remember folks who weren’t respected (financially, politically, sexually, or artistically) in life will pose some problems. My hope in and enjoyment of this novel, however, stems from its deep aim to right these societal wrongs, by allowing the Xtravaganzas to live once more. Through his work, Cassara helps us relate to the plights of the past, and also charges us to question how much progress we’ve made. (Throughout the novel, I often found myself thinking about our current struggles to support HIV patients and prevent its spread.) I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to broaden their understanding of queer culture and struggles, both past and present—The House of Impossible Beauties is an unattempted approach to understanding some of our community's dynamic young people.
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  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    “We dance for the memories of things we dread to remember,” Katya said as the rest of the class went into position, raising their legs up, then beyond the head. “We dance for the things we wish to forget.” 3 1/2 stars. The House of Impossible Beauties is almost amazing. Cassara has created several memorable characters, drawn scenes with luminous writing, whilst also introducing many readers to a relatively unknown area of modern history: the House of Xtravaganza, gay subculture in the 1980s, an “We dance for the memories of things we dread to remember,” Katya said as the rest of the class went into position, raising their legs up, then beyond the head. “We dance for the things we wish to forget.” 3 1/2 stars. The House of Impossible Beauties is almost amazing. Cassara has created several memorable characters, drawn scenes with luminous writing, whilst also introducing many readers to a relatively unknown area of modern history: the House of Xtravaganza, gay subculture in the 1980s, and New York City's underground ballroom scene.There's a lot to praise here, but this book does fall into a number of traps common among debut novelists. A hundred pages could easily have been cut without losing anything from the story and sometimes I would read whole chapters that seemed superfluous. Some more or better editing should have picked up on this.The occasional Spanish word in an otherwise English language novel was probably supposed to add some Latin authenticity, but it made many parts read awkwardly. It felt out of place and gimmicky.I usually give a short overview of the plot when reviewing, but that's difficult here seeing as The House of Impossible Beauties is essentially plotless. It contains a series of episodic - albeit entertaining - chapters delving into the gay/trans/drag experience of the lead characters. They dress up, dance, have lovers, and dabble in prostitution, all while the specter of AIDs lurks in the background, but there's no overarching story or question driving the book.In terms of characters, Angel and Venus sparkled. These two fierce Latinx drag queens are sassy as hell and through taking shit from anyone. Angel is based on real-life house member, Angie Xtravaganza, and I love how the author weaved historical fact with his fiction as much as possible. Unfortunately, Daniel and Juanito's stories interested me less and, truth be told, no other characters could compete with Angel and Venus, and I found myself waiting to return to their chapters.But it's an impressive debut in many ways. Cassara’s writing has moments of sheer brilliance and he has created two extremely memorable characters. It is loud and bright and fun, but also dark and sad, as much of the 1980s was for New York's LGBTQ+ community. I look forward to what the author writes next.TW: transphobia; rape; abuse.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
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  • Jessica Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted to love this so bad, I really did! It's about the queer ball scene in New York City in the 1980s, as documented in the popular film Paris Is Burning. Wonderful subject matter that had the potential to be so riveting and affecting.The main problem with this book is that there are too many shifting perspectives and not enough focused character development. With the exception of a few sections that are notably strong, Cassara relies heavily on dialogue, which detracts from the substance.Th I wanted to love this so bad, I really did! It's about the queer ball scene in New York City in the 1980s, as documented in the popular film Paris Is Burning. Wonderful subject matter that had the potential to be so riveting and affecting.The main problem with this book is that there are too many shifting perspectives and not enough focused character development. With the exception of a few sections that are notably strong, Cassara relies heavily on dialogue, which detracts from the substance.There are plenty of heavy things happening in this book—it's at the height of the AIDS crisis, for example—but they rarely hit with the emotional weight that they should. This is partly due to the constantly shifting perspectives and heavy dialogue, and partly due to the awkward pacing.The writing itself is just okay. I wanted the prose to be lush and fluid and lyrical, and while there are some beautiful passages (all of Dorian's parts!) that reveal Cassara's talent, they are too few and far between.I was going to rate this lower, but I'm bumping it up a star for a strong ending. Finally, in the last 60 pages, we get to really concentrate on two of the more interesting characters, and this focus makes a big difference. It feels more narratively cohesive, more poignant.I loved the idea of this book. I wanted it to destroy me. Instead, it rarely transcended the surface.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    How badly I wanted to love this book. How disappointed I was. I was planning on loving it: a book about queer and trans street kids finding family with each other in the underground ball scene of the 1980s. The novel is based on the real House of Xtravaganza, one of the more famous houses of ballroom culture, founded in 1982 by Hector Xtravaganza. Many of the characters in this novel (including Hector and the house mother, Angel) are based on real people who part of the all-Latino House of Xtrav How badly I wanted to love this book. How disappointed I was. I was planning on loving it: a book about queer and trans street kids finding family with each other in the underground ball scene of the 1980s. The novel is based on the real House of Xtravaganza, one of the more famous houses of ballroom culture, founded in 1982 by Hector Xtravaganza. Many of the characters in this novel (including Hector and the house mother, Angel) are based on real people who part of the all-Latino House of Xtravaganza.Ball culture is an important part of queer history and culture about which I know little. I’ve always found fiction to be a useful and meaningful medium for telling true stories, and so I was excited to pick up this novel in the hopes that it would do justice to the depth, power, creativity, and resilience of the people who’ve been involved in ball culture.It did not do that. The whole novel felt as if it existed on the surface–a shiny veneer with nothing underneath. Or, rather, underneath was the true story, the real lives of countless trans and queer warriors, mostly poor, mostly people of color, many of them working the streets, many of them homeless. But the truth and depth of those stories did not come across in these pages.The characters, for me, fell flat. I finished the book with a sense that I never really got to know them. They were not drawn as whole people with deeply unique stories, histories, desires, fears, and joys. Perhaps Cassara would have been better served using entirely fictional characters, rather than trying to base his story on real people. Because the characters felt so far away, the emotional impact of the book was not personal. I did not feel it in my gut.Reading this novel was brutal–but because of the horrors it describes, not because of any emotional investment, on my part, in the characters. It was imagining the real people who have gone through the traumas Cassara describes that left me feeling empty and angry and sick. For me, this is a mark of an unsuccessful book: I cared deeply about the subject matter, but the fictional narrative as it was presented failed to move me.Another thing that irked me was the absence of fierce queer love, of safety, of tenderness. There were scenes in which the characters took care of each other, but they were few and far between. The moments of sisterhood and queer family building felt thin compared to the rest of the book, which was primarily moments of violence and terror.Violence and terror: it was brutal. There was a rape scene, there was sexual assault, and there was abuse. There were many instances of transphobia, femmephobia, and homophobia, much of it violent. Most of the scenes in this book were deeply painful to read.I don’t mean to minimize the violence that queer and trans people, especially queer and trans people of color, face. Everything I described above happens, and far too often. But queer and trans people have also built tremendous networks of fierce love and power. Ball culture is an example of that. But ball culture–a community of safety and celebration–was mostly absent from the novel. Despite being a book inspired by ball culture and the real House of Xtravaganza, I never got a sense of that culture. The book did not feel steeped in it, not even a little bit.To his credit, there was some gorgeous writing, and the few scenes in which the four main characters were all together felt true. There was the occasional line that nailed a certain feeling or a certain moment. But those few moments could not carry the book.I believe that Cassara was trying to write a book that celebrated that community. I believe he was trying to balance the danger and pain of being poor and queer and of color with the vibrancy of music and dance and drag and being true to yourself, of falling in love and finding home and surviving and thriving. But only the terror came through for me.In my opinion, that’s a slight on the lives of the real people from which he drew inspiration. It’s only telling half the story. It’s important to write and speak and make art about racism and homophobia and transphobia and violence and the ways all these systems of oppression devastate lives. But it’s just as important to recognize how much beauty exists in those lives.
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  • Elizabeth☮
    January 1, 1970
    I don't even know where to begin in my review of this one. The world Cassara has created is just mind-blowingly good. This takes place in New York during the 1980's. Our narrators are all boys that have been marginalized in their own homes and find their way to the streets. Each story is unique yet there is a common thread of displacement and misunderstanding.Once the boys make a home for themselves in the houses that host balls that gave these men a place to express themselves, everything seems I don't even know where to begin in my review of this one. The world Cassara has created is just mind-blowingly good. This takes place in New York during the 1980's. Our narrators are all boys that have been marginalized in their own homes and find their way to the streets. Each story is unique yet there is a common thread of displacement and misunderstanding.Once the boys make a home for themselves in the houses that host balls that gave these men a place to express themselves, everything seems to be enough -- for a while. I felt dropped into the world Cassara creates and I found myself tearing up and laughing at the same time. He creates characters that are flawed yet lovable. I wanted to reach into the pages and give everyone a hug. Give everyone a chance. This spoke to me in a way that a book hasn't in a while. I grew up in the eighties. I remember the dawn of AIDS and how people were so afraid of what they didn't understand. I saw "Paris is Burning" which highlights this movement of the dance and movement of the houses created in New York during this time period. Most of these women are gone now, but Cassara keeps them alive through a riveting read.
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  • Ashley
    January 1, 1970
    The definition of meh for me. I should have known better, and I feel like my not enjoying this book is my fault. I am usually not into lit-fic, except on rare occasions. But this was recommended to me by one of those Book Riot quizzes where it was like, if you like this and this and this, then you should pick up ______. I read the synopsis and said, hmmm, that does sound like I would enjoy it! I was lured in with the promise of an exploration of NY in the 1980s, drag and ball culture, and explor The definition of meh for me. I should have known better, and I feel like my not enjoying this book is my fault. I am usually not into lit-fic, except on rare occasions. But this was recommended to me by one of those Book Riot quizzes where it was like, if you like this and this and this, then you should pick up ______. I read the synopsis and said, hmmm, that does sound like I would enjoy it! I was lured in with the promise of an exploration of NY in the 1980s, drag and ball culture, and explorations of gender and sexuality. But it was mostly just blah for me. I found myself at a constant emotional remove from the characters, and the writing was good, I guess. In control of itself and all the right words in all the right places, but nothing about it let me feel for these characters. How do I say this? It felt very masculine. And like most lit-fic (which is why I don't read it), it felt excessively into the "darker" aspects of human nature. Drugs, rape, sexism, men with power taking advantage of those without. That could have worked for me, I think, if the book was written in a more personal, accessible style. Instead, I felt like I was just watching from the outside. It didn't help that the narrative jumps back and forth between narrators pretty often, which is a technique that has worked for me in the past, but did not work for me here.Mostly, I just thought it was okay, and I put it down thinking, yes, this is why I don't read these kinds of books without lots of people whose opinions I trust reading them first. I was the guinea pig here. No one I know, or whose reviews I read regularly has read this book. So yeah, my fault. If you like lit-fic and books that dwell on the darkness and don't mind emotional engagement being sacrificed for style, you might like this.[2.5 stars rounded up]
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  • jo
    January 1, 1970
    Το “The house of impossible beauties” είναι το ντεμπούτο μυθιστόρημα του συγγραφέα Joseph Cassara. Η ιστορία του διαδραματίζεται την δεκαετία του ’80 στην Νέα Υόρκη με κεντρικούς ήρωες λατινοαμερικάνες και αφροαμερικάνες drag queens, trans women και γκέι άντρες. Με φόντο την HIV επιδημία και τα άκρως εντυπωσιακά balls ο Cassera πλάθει μια ιστορία που στο επίκεντρο της βρίσκεται η κρυφή ζωή των αποκηρυγμένων ανθρώπων μιας πουριτανικής κοινωνίας τριάντα και χρόνια πριν.Αν όχι όλοι οι χαρακτήρες τό Το “The house of impossible beauties” είναι το ντεμπούτο μυθιστόρημα του συγγραφέα Joseph Cassara. Η ιστορία του διαδραματίζεται την δεκαετία του ’80 στην Νέα Υόρκη με κεντρικούς ήρωες λατινοαμερικάνες και αφροαμερικάνες drag queens, trans women και γκέι άντρες. Με φόντο την HIV επιδημία και τα άκρως εντυπωσιακά balls ο Cassera πλάθει μια ιστορία που στο επίκεντρο της βρίσκεται η κρυφή ζωή των αποκηρυγμένων ανθρώπων μιας πουριτανικής κοινωνίας τριάντα και χρόνια πριν.Αν όχι όλοι οι χαρακτήρες τότε ένα τεράστιο ποσοστό αυτών έχουν υπάρξει αληθινοί άνθρωποι, ο συγγραφέας δεν άλλαξε τα ονόματα τους, και έχοντας αγαπήσει τις προσωπικότητες τους μέσα από το Paris is burning (ένα απίθανο ντοκιμαντέρ για την Ball scene της δεκαετίας του ’80, το προτείνω σε όλους!) χάρηκα πολύ που θα τους «έβλεπα» ξανά. Με άγγιξαν τόσο πολύ οι προσωπικές τους ιστορίες και τα προβλήματα που αντιμετώπιζε ο καθένας τους ξεχωριστά αλλά και μαζί σαν κοινότητα. Ένιωσα πολύ λυπημένη γιατί γνωρίζω πως ήταν η απεικόνιση της πραγματικότητας πολλών LGBTQ+ ανθρώπων ανά τα χρόνια. Αν υπάρχει κάτι που μπορεί κανείς να πάρει από το βιβλίο αυτό είναι ότι εμείς επιλέγουμε την οικογένεια μας, κάπου υπάρχει μια ομάδα ανθρώπων έτοιμη να μας δεχτεί στην αγκαλιά της και να αποδεχτεί έτσι όπως είμαστε. Παρόλο που το βιβλίο αυτό το αγάπησα για καθαρά συναισθηματικούς λόγους υπήρξαν δυο πράγματα που με ενόχλησαν. Το πρώτο είναι πως σε κάποια σημεία ένιωσα ότι οι χαρακτήρες που είχα γνωρίσει μέσα από το ντοκιμαντέρ δεν έμοιαζαν πολύ με αυτούς που βρήκα στο μυθιστόρημα και επίσης με ενόχλησαν οι αλλαγές στο background τους, έπρεπε όμως να μου θυμίζω συνεχώς πως ο Cassera τους χρησιμοποίησε σαν έμπνευση και δεν είχε σκοπό να γράψει μια αμιγώς βιογραφική ιστορία, αν και κράτησε πολλά στοιχεία από τις πραγματικές τους ζωές, άλλα ένα μυθιστόρημα φόρο τιμής σε αυτούς τους ανθρώπους. Και το δεύτερο στοιχείο του μυθιστορήματος που με ενόχλησε είναι η επιλογή του συγγραφέα να περιλάβει πολλές ισπανικές λέξεις στην ιστορία του με αποτέλεσμα να μην βγάζω νόημα γιατί δεν γνωρίζω την γλώσσα. Μπορεί σε μια πρόταση να μιλάει ένας χαρακτήρας αγγλικά μαζί με ισπανικά και να αναγκάζομαι να βγάζω νόημα από τα συμφραζόμενα. Ήταν λίγο εκνευριστικό αν και κατάλαβα πως ήθελε ο Cassera να δώσει χρώμα στους διαλόγους! Παρόλα αυτά η γραφή του ήταν πολύ καλή και μερικές στιγμές απλά υπέροχη. Αγαπώ Angie και Venus, η Angie έχει μια ιδιαίτερη θέση στην καρδιά μου , και χάρηκα τόσο πολύ που είχα την ευκαιρία να περάσω μερικές μέρες παρέα μαζί τους.Θα πρέπει να ευχαριστήσω την φίλη μου που το βρήκε και αμέσως σκέφτηκε πως θα μου αρέσει και είχε δίκιο. Αυτό το μυθιστόρημα είναι κομμένο και ραμμένο επάνω μου, στα γούστα μου και δούλεψε καλά με τα συναισθηματικά μου «κουμπιά». Είχα χρόνια να κλάψω διαβάζοντας ένα βιβλίο και το The house of impossible beauties το κατάφερα πάνω από δύο φορές.Το προτείνω σε όσους ψάχνουν βιβλία με LGBTQ+ θεματολογία , θα σας ανταμείψει!https://cherrybookreviews.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/review-the-house-of-impossible-beauties-%ce%b1%cf%80%cf%8c-%cf%84%ce%bf%ce%bd-joseph-cassara/
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  • Teresa
    January 1, 1970
    THIS. BOOK. I literally cried for about 3/4 quarters of this book...it was heart breakingly beautiful. Joseph Cassara writes without abandon; I was so wrapped up in Angel, Venus, Daniel and Juanito's lives that my life was placed on hold for about 3 days. Cassara weaves a gorgeous but gritty story of a house of "misfits". All thrown together because their families don't agree with how they have chosen to live their lives. I feel in love with all of them but Juanito in particular captured my hear THIS. BOOK. I literally cried for about 3/4 quarters of this book...it was heart breakingly beautiful. Joseph Cassara writes without abandon; I was so wrapped up in Angel, Venus, Daniel and Juanito's lives that my life was placed on hold for about 3 days. Cassara weaves a gorgeous but gritty story of a house of "misfits". All thrown together because their families don't agree with how they have chosen to live their lives. I feel in love with all of them but Juanito in particular captured my heart with a vengeance. I cannot wait to recommend this book to everyone I know and people that I just meet....this is a story that will stick with me forever. (Looking forward to more from Cassara as well.)Thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC!
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars.Author Virginia Postrel once wrote that “glamour is an imaginative process that creates a specific emotional response: a sharp mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration.” Contextually Postrel was unlikely speaking of the halcyon days of glitz and glamour that made up the Harlem ball scene in the 80s and 90s, but she may as well have been. I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of Postrel’s definition of glamour than Joseph Cassara’s triumphant debut The House of 4.5 stars.Author Virginia Postrel once wrote that “glamour is an imaginative process that creates a specific emotional response: a sharp mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration.” Contextually Postrel was unlikely speaking of the halcyon days of glitz and glamour that made up the Harlem ball scene in the 80s and 90s, but she may as well have been. I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of Postrel’s definition of glamour than Joseph Cassara’s triumphant debut The House of Impossible Beauties. As triumphant it is the novel is also undeniably heart-wrenching, as the glamour Cassara’s ensemble aspires to achieve is not without its hardships. It comes at a cost, both in and out of the control of Cassara’s unforgettable characters. Yet what the novel proves is that this cost is worth it, despite the heartache. After all, who are we as people without dreams to help forge our paths?That was meant to be a rhetorical question but one could answer that we’d be stuck living in a monochromatic world. If such a milquetoast existence sounds hunky dory to you, I suppose you may wanna consider something other than The House of Impossible Beauties.Pedantic rant aside THoIB is truly one of those transcendent books that has just about everything, and evokes just about every imaginable emotion. It’s not without its flaws - find me a big, ambitious debut that doesn’t - but that’s part of the appeal. It’s a deeply human novel; flaws should be expected. Nobody’s perfect, even if we spend our entire lives aspiring to live in a world that is.Cassara’s characters all but achieve this in their own way. New to the NYC drag scene Angel is escaping a tumultuous past, searching for a new family after her very own fails her. She meets Dorian, an aging queen who mentors Angel on the art of glamour. Dorian also introduces Angel to Hector and the pair not only fall in love but dream of starting their own house - the first all-Latino house, in fact - within the Harlem ball circuit. Soon the House of Xtravaganza is more than just a glamorous dream: it’s glamour redefined, fully realized and in the flesh.Angel soon meets and recruits Venus, a trans girl in search of many of the same familial aspects Angel longs for and hopes to accomplish with her own house. Angel also recruits Daniel and Juanito, the former a muscle-bound butch, the latter a quiet, young artistic boy. This makeshift family learn to make do with what they have, lean on one another to continue living within a world that has all but dismissed them. Their choices may not always be admirable – prostituting themselves, turning to drugs – but you can’t help but root for them to succeed. And yet in the wake of the AIDS epidemic it seems as though the cards are already stacked against them. Hector is the first to succumb; their community begins to drop like flies as the 80’s whirl on. Cassara navigates us through the whirlwind, amidst each character’s highest of highs and lowest of lows, with a sharp, witty and compassionate prose that’s practically irresistible and altogether authentic. That said, stylistically I had a couple of minor quibbles that were more personal preference than egregious errors on the author’s part: the infusion of Spanish was a bit overdone (it worked far better during dialogue than within the narration), and the shifting of pronouns, while very clever when writing about trans folk, was at times inconsistent. But like I said, these are just simply quibbles. We live in an imperfect world so tiny little imperfections such as these are not only justifiable they’re welcome; perfection would be boring. If there’s anything THoIB is not, it’s boring. It’s a revelation, really, a spirited celebration of love, humanity, and finding one’s identity in a world seemingly resistant to imagination. In short, it’s throwing shade back on those who threw it in the first place.
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  • MaryBeth's Bookshelf
    January 1, 1970
    Set in New York City during the 1980's and 1990's this story focuses on gay and transgender characters living during the beginning of the AIDS crisis and Harlem Ball Scene. This is this story of many unlikely people who come together to form a family after being rejected by their own. Angel meets Hector after being shunned by her mother, and together they create The House of Xtravaganza - a home for Latinos in Harlem. Together they create their own family, free from the stereotypes and violence Set in New York City during the 1980's and 1990's this story focuses on gay and transgender characters living during the beginning of the AIDS crisis and Harlem Ball Scene. This is this story of many unlikely people who come together to form a family after being rejected by their own. Angel meets Hector after being shunned by her mother, and together they create The House of Xtravaganza - a home for Latinos in Harlem. Together they create their own family, free from the stereotypes and violence of the world around them. But when Hector dies of AIDS, Angel is left to care and hold her family together - Venus, Daniel, Juanito all struggle with issues of their own that test the strength of the family unit they have created.Cassara's writing is raw and gritty - he holds nothing back. At times this book was difficult to read as I struggled with the violence this community endured. But I think this book is so important and we need more literature like this.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    "Men come and go, I always say that. Maybe love is shorter than it should be, but hot diggity damn, Chanel is fuckin' forever" says one character. And so it goes, Chanel and rather restrained and multiple sexual encounters until an explosive, explicit scene wraps it all up in drugs and broken hearts and pain and a future filled with early deaths. This story deserves a better telling, and since there is nothing new under the sun, it is ALL in the telling. The author just can't stop piling on the "Men come and go, I always say that. Maybe love is shorter than it should be, but hot diggity damn, Chanel is fuckin' forever" says one character. And so it goes, Chanel and rather restrained and multiple sexual encounters until an explosive, explicit scene wraps it all up in drugs and broken hearts and pain and a future filled with early deaths. This story deserves a better telling, and since there is nothing new under the sun, it is ALL in the telling. The author just can't stop piling on the adjectives: soup is 'bangin' soup' or hair is 'looking especially fly' (and was 'fly' even used as a slang word in the 1980s?). The author goes for broke with lines like "Lady Midnight had long climaxed and now she was ready for sleep." Okay, arrest that editor! But I admit, I laughed out loud, and maybe that was the point. And the language/words of the characters are all over the place. Within the same scene, with the same characters, we read, "See, our minds are on the same wavelength" and "You know what I mean nena. That man you're seeing, dimelo todo." I have no idea what that means, even in the context in which "dimelo todo" is used. So 4 stars for originality and 2 stars for some absolutely outrageous lines* which become overpowering by the end of the book. I didn't like at all the author's multiple references to Sandy Hook as that felt on the cheap side as a way to get some tears, but then again, the author's acknowledgements end with a real beauty: "Finally, to all the gentle souls we lost to the virus, and to the brothers and sisters at Pulse who left us too soon. This book is for you" is the only sob-inducing acknowledgement I've ever read. Overall, I'm giving this book a 3 star average. *And not for a f***ing whoregotten (hey, I can write like Cassara!!!) billion s***ing dollars or a Chanel #5 equivalent leave out: "I'm so hungry for a good, meaty man that someone needs to alert Sally Struthers to my cause." Read again, memorize, and file away for just the right, righteous moment.
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  • Al
    January 1, 1970
    I haven't even finished this book; I still have a fourth left to go, and even now I can say that this is the most haunting, yet glamorous, book I have ever read. The entire cast is diverse, both racially, sexually, and gender-wise. There isn't a dull moment in this book. It's laugh-inducing, it makes you love the world and then hate it again with the turn of a page, and it's extremely tear-jerking; still not forgiving Joseph Cassara for making me cry during lunch last week. It's full of some of I haven't even finished this book; I still have a fourth left to go, and even now I can say that this is the most haunting, yet glamorous, book I have ever read. The entire cast is diverse, both racially, sexually, and gender-wise. There isn't a dull moment in this book. It's laugh-inducing, it makes you love the world and then hate it again with the turn of a page, and it's extremely tear-jerking; still not forgiving Joseph Cassara for making me cry during lunch last week. It's full of some of the most lovable characters I've ever read, and I'm still not even finished.I'm going to be the first user on this damned site with a review so far, and I just have one thing to say: when this book comes out, I want you to drag your ass to the nearest bookstore and buy it immediately. Don't even dare get it from the library; this book is life-changing, and you're going to want to buy it anyways because of how beautiful and poetic the magic behind it all is. I want you to watch the pages become dog-eared, the covers become stained, and the pages yellowing. Because it deserves it, and it's worth every cent you're going to spend.
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  • Marc
    January 1, 1970
    I read this in April and struggled with writing a review because I loved it so much. I've seen "Paris is Burning" many times but this novel hit me with an emotional punch I wasn't expecting. I borrowed it from the library but ended up purchasing the hardcover because I want it on my bookshelf as I will definitely be reading it again--highly, highly recommended!
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  • Rod-Kelly Hines
    January 1, 1970
    I knew from the first few chapters that this would be a tough read for me. The thing that kept me reading to the end were the glimmers of wonderful writing that came up every 50 pages or so, and really held this almost 400 page novel together. The trouble here was in the writing and the structure; I believe the author was in over his head a bit with this subject. When authors choose real people for a fictional story, there is always the risk of reducing the characters to very flat versions of th I knew from the first few chapters that this would be a tough read for me. The thing that kept me reading to the end were the glimmers of wonderful writing that came up every 50 pages or so, and really held this almost 400 page novel together. The trouble here was in the writing and the structure; I believe the author was in over his head a bit with this subject. When authors choose real people for a fictional story, there is always the risk of reducing the characters to very flat versions of themselves and that is exactly what happened. As hard as Cassara tried to capture the exuberance and sass and fierceness that was indicative of the time period and characters, it just fell flat for me, the details didn't feel integrated into the larger narrative, rather, it felt like I was reading fan fiction written by a huge fan of Paris is Burning. In terms of structure, it was all dialogue and superfluous detail. There was no clear narrative thread, no deeper themes being explored, and that was just a huge hindrance for my enjoyment of the novel.The moments of brilliance were all the bits written from Dorian Corey's POV. That could've been the whole novel IMO. These were the only sections written in first person and honestly the entire thing probably would've been stronger had it been that way all the way through.
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  • Aaron Elliott
    January 1, 1970
    This book is lucky to have been green-lighted due to the popularity of "RuPaul's Drag Race", but is in essence a fanboy retelling of the documentary "Paris is Burning". The author doesn't even try hard to mask the names of characters, using the same names from "Paris is Burning"...or bring something fresh to this beautifully tragic group of gay men and trans women who perform within the Harlem Ballroom Circuit during the mid to late 80s.The research is very sloppy. A young character traumatized This book is lucky to have been green-lighted due to the popularity of "RuPaul's Drag Race", but is in essence a fanboy retelling of the documentary "Paris is Burning". The author doesn't even try hard to mask the names of characters, using the same names from "Paris is Burning"...or bring something fresh to this beautifully tragic group of gay men and trans women who perform within the Harlem Ballroom Circuit during the mid to late 80s.The research is very sloppy. A young character traumatized by watching Jaws (1975) takes a plane trip where he gulps three bottles of water? Bottled water...on a plane...in 1975? No.The author in the smallest way does however, manage to evoke the feeling of hopefulness for the characters' future. This book is such a unimaginative and blatant rip-off of the above mentioned brilliant documentary (download it!) that I've decided to stop reading it. I already know how it ends.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    A big part of me wants to sweep this book up into my arms and give it a hug. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, for as long as I can remember I've always felt invigorated by LGBT communities. The humor, emotional expansiveness, and, finally, the sense of freedom I saw in friends who've come out. The creativity and energy of the drag shows I attended first in college - where I saw a queen perform Bjork's "Oceania", and have not forgotten it, 12 years later - then at local bars, then (of c A big part of me wants to sweep this book up into my arms and give it a hug. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, for as long as I can remember I've always felt invigorated by LGBT communities. The humor, emotional expansiveness, and, finally, the sense of freedom I saw in friends who've come out. The creativity and energy of the drag shows I attended first in college - where I saw a queen perform Bjork's "Oceania", and have not forgotten it, 12 years later - then at local bars, then (of course) on RuPaul's Drag Race. The simple fact that everyone should be able to love who they love and be who they are, without fear of judgment or, god, violence. The House of Impossible Beauties is a fictionalized story of vibrancy and struggle in the gay community. Joseph Cassara takes the major players in the real House of Xtravaganza, from the NYC drag ball scene in the late 80's (featured in the documentary Paris is Burning), and imagines the joys and pains of their lives off camera. The story takes place at the height of the AIDS epidemic, but also examines other tragedies such as the way low income POC gay kids cast off from biological families could be forced into prostitution to survive on the streets, and the looming threat of violence against trans people in all aspects of life. It may be hard to read, but this book celebrates the lives of its characters and memorializes their stories. It is so important to preserve that history, especially the history of those marginalized not just by sexuality but also by race and class. I am disappointed that I didn't love this book. I think Cassara captures the voices of these real people very well - particularly Dorian, the original mother. Xtravaganza house mother Angie's romance with house father Hector was my favorite part of the book, beautifully written in Angie's voice, which felt more distinct to me at the beginning of the book and got quieter as other characters took over and as she suffers disappointments and grief over and over. My major issue with the book is that it tended to be a little flat and superficial at times. More than once I had the thought that it was reading like Paris is Burning fanfiction, as characters lust over designer clothes and use all the drag scene buzzwords on a day out in NYC. I can't put my finger on why I felt that way, except perhaps a feeling that sometimes the detail didn't really add to the story. I also thought that sometimes the emotion was too melodramatic for my tastes. Not in the scenes of loss, not at all, but in smaller moments, like when 14 year old Juanito has the thought that in all his life no one has ever looked at him with eyes of (romantic) love. I think I am too cynical and too far removed from 14 to believe such absolutes. I'd like to wrap up this review by sharing, on a personal note, that I read some of this book on a trip to New Orleans, where I visited a gay bar on Bourbon Street (the one behind the One Way street sign defaced to say "Gone Gay" if you're familiar). The time at the bar felt like a celebration - couples dancing and kissing, men in underwear dancing on the bartops, doors open wide for all the city to watch if they wanted. But I also watched with an eye for the past, for the stigmas of the 80's, for the underground, for those who've died before their time. Thanks to Mr. Cassara for giving those stories life.
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  • Vivek Tejuja
    January 1, 1970
    Authors need to write more in the LGBT space. I know a lot is being written, but, I also think that a lot is still not enough. Books such as “The House of Impossible Beauties” make you see, realize and understand that. I had been wanting to read this one for a while now and I am so happy that the wait paid off because I absolutely loved this gem of a book. There are some books that stick with you, no matter what and this will for sure be one of them.“The House of Impossible Beauties” is literall Authors need to write more in the LGBT space. I know a lot is being written, but, I also think that a lot is still not enough. Books such as “The House of Impossible Beauties” make you see, realize and understand that. I had been wanting to read this one for a while now and I am so happy that the wait paid off because I absolutely loved this gem of a book. There are some books that stick with you, no matter what and this will for sure be one of them.“The House of Impossible Beauties” is literally that – a house of people living on the edge in the ’80s of New York – a time riddled with confusion, mayhem, and change. From all that I have read and understand, I know it isn’t easy to write an AIDS novel, but this one is so much more than just that. In so many places in the book, I had to put it down and breathe a little, because I could see myself in its pages and not just when it came down to one character or one incident. It was an amalgamation of it all. And yes, I did weep, if not cry while reading it.At the center of this gregarious, big-hearted novel is Angel – barely seventeen, new to the drag world and ball culture, with a big heart to care for those who need it the most – people who are like her and those without love. She falls in love with Hector, who shares the dream of forming the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. When Hector dies to AIDS, Angel decides to build the house all by herself and she does.And this is where it all begins in the book. Part One is about introducing these characters who inhabit the house – Angel, Venus – the trans girl who just wants someone rich to look after her, Daniel who in a way saves Venus and himself and Juanito – the quiet one who is in love with fabrics. The marginality of these characters – of not just being gay or trans but also Latino in the ’80s (and even today it isn’t easy, being either or both of these) shines – almost jumping out of the pages. Cassara opens you to a new world (if new to you that is) and merges it beautifully with characters who sear through your heart.The writing is not only taut but also funny in so many places. The book is not without humour and perhaps we need more of it to get through the day. The novel is, of course, raw and you wish certain things didn’t happen to them, but they do and through all of it, the House of Xtravaganza stands tall, sheltering them, and how the shifting views of people regarding LGBT population, gives it a totally different form and shape. What I loved is the history of LGBT interspersed far and few in-between the pages, quite cleverly by the author.“The House of Impossible Beauties” should be read by one and all and not only the LGBT population. It is a novel about empathy, kindness, forgiveness and above all just being who you are, without fear or inhibitions. I only wish I had a house like this to go to when I was growing-up and needed a friend, a mother, or even a lover.
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  • Nikola
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsYou can also find this review plus my Q&A with Joseph on my book blog. The House of Impossible Beauties is one of those books you stumble upon once in a while that leave a mark on you. What first attracted me to this book was the topic it deals with plus it being a LGBTQ book it was an immediate add to my to-be-read shelf. What awaits you inside is a story filled with courage, hope and suffering but above all that what this book carries and showcases the most are love and support b 4.5 starsYou can also find this review plus my Q&A with Joseph on my book blog. The House of Impossible Beauties is one of those books you stumble upon once in a while that leave a mark on you. What first attracted me to this book was the topic it deals with plus it being a LGBTQ book it was an immediate add to my to-be-read shelf. What awaits you inside is a story filled with courage, hope and suffering but above all that what this book carries and showcases the most are love and support between each character in it.Before reading this book I had to watch Paris is Burning because for some reason I wanted to see what exactly inspired this interesting-looking book. The documentary was truly amazing and this book follows the fictionalized lives of some of the real people from the documentary like Dorian Corey, Angel Xtravaganza, Venus Xtravaganza with appearances by some other characters like Pepper Labeija and many more. It mainly focuses on the life of the House of Xtravaganza : Hector, the father of the house, Angel Xtravaganza who is the mother and Venus, Juanito and Daniel. Each new part begins with a chapter narrated by Dorian Corey with her sass and wisdom.At the beginning of the book we are introduced to each character and chapter by chapter get to know their upbringing stories as well as their lives in the present. I loved reading their stories because they show the truth behind being a trans person and the judgment they have to face daily because of being trans. What this book offers is a real look at the 1980s, the HIV crisis and the moral people had back then about things that are somewhat accepted in our society [I say somewhat because there are still parts of the world where people look at someone who’s gay or trans with disgust]. These are the sort of stories that need to be told more often because they are so good and they made me feel closer to the T part of the community. I must say that where I come from trans people as well as gay people are treated very harshly because of the religious beliefs people have but nowadays a lot of young people have no judgement towards the LGBTQ community which makes me happy because future generations will be raised without hate towards people who are different.What makes this book so special to me are the characters in it. I loved reading about them, hearing their stories, passions and their dreams. Throwing shade is the way they communicate at times and I just loved every bit of shade they threw at each other.The only thing I found as a con is the use of pronouns because at times they were confusing. Some people may find the use of Spanish in the sentences annoying or too much but to me it made the story much more real.What can I say? This review is a rollercoaster ride and I hope I presented the book and my thoughts in an interesting way that makes you want to pick up and read this marvelous book.The House of Impossible Beauties is a gorgeous novel about transgender and gay kids set in the 1980s filled with stories that will make you feel every emotion possible. Once you finish reading this book you’ll want to read it again.I would like to thank the publisher Oneworld Publications for sending this book my way in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own and not influenced in any way.
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