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 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
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2018
PublisherEcco
ISBN-139780062677006
Rating
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Lgbt, Glbt, Queer

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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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.
  • 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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  • 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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  • Ailsa
    January 1, 1970
    It’s difficult writing a fictionalised account of real people. You have to do them justice, and I don’t know how historically accurate this book is but I do know that it’s heartbreakingly moving. Centred around the legendary House of Xtravaganza made famous in Paris Is Burning this book follows the lives of Venus and Angel, two transgender teenagers in NYC in the mid-80s. (You rarely read the word transgender however - the term in ball culture was “fem queen”) If you’ve seen the film you know th It’s difficult writing a fictionalised account of real people. You have to do them justice, and I don’t know how historically accurate this book is but I do know that it’s heartbreakingly moving. Centred around the legendary House of Xtravaganza made famous in Paris Is Burning this book follows the lives of Venus and Angel, two transgender teenagers in NYC in the mid-80s. (You rarely read the word transgender however - the term in ball culture was “fem queen”) If you’ve seen the film you know there’s no happy ending - stories centred around gay lives in the 1980s rarely have a happy ending - but the love and friendships are pure and real. A fitting tribute to a wonderful and fascinating group of people. I loved it.(I received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review)
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  • Matthew Sciarappa
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this title from work, so that I may read it and then sell it, or at least discuss it, to/with customers.Ultimately, I wanted to enjoy this book more, but I am very glad I read it.If I manage to collect my thoughts properly, I will review it on my channel. Until then, I encourage every single person to give this book a chance when it comes out. It’s an important piece of fiction.
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  • Billie
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted to love it and I did love the characters, but for a novel supposedly about participants in New York's drag ball scene, there was very little mention of or time spent at the actual balls. There were also some mis-used words that took me out of the story for a moment. (Sorry I don't have any examples. I have the choice of either trying to lose myself in the story, or reading with post-its and pen and I choose the former.) There is a lot of good here, but, to me, it felt like it needed mor I wanted to love it and I did love the characters, but for a novel supposedly about participants in New York's drag ball scene, there was very little mention of or time spent at the actual balls. There were also some mis-used words that took me out of the story for a moment. (Sorry I don't have any examples. I have the choice of either trying to lose myself in the story, or reading with post-its and pen and I choose the former.) There is a lot of good here, but, to me, it felt like it needed more work.
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  • Jess
    January 1, 1970
    My heart was filled and broken between the covers of this book. Every other metaphor falls short. This amount of depth and electricity comes from a debut author? Joseph Cassara, I will read everything you publish.I have rarely encountered the pull of a place in a novel. Setting has always been tangential, necessary for plot, but contextually unimportant. When booktalking this title, I've remarked upon being thrust into 1980s New York City, seeing the heat steam off the sidewalk in the summertime My heart was filled and broken between the covers of this book. Every other metaphor falls short. This amount of depth and electricity comes from a debut author? Joseph Cassara, I will read everything you publish.I have rarely encountered the pull of a place in a novel. Setting has always been tangential, necessary for plot, but contextually unimportant. When booktalking this title, I've remarked upon being thrust into 1980s New York City, seeing the heat steam off the sidewalk in the summertime, even though it's sweater weather where I live now. I fell hard for Hector, Venus, Juanito, Dorian, Angel, Daniel... I can't say they were my friends; they probably would have next to no patience with me, as an outsider. But none of them would let me go until I had properly mourned for each of them. The world truly is richer for having them in it, and yet, the world has no idea what it has lost.
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  • Dan Radovich
    January 1, 1970
    Joseph Cassara has created a masterpiece in capturing a generation he is too young to have experienced. His prose is brilliant, glittering as dazzling as the mirror balls and lights in the clubs of the ball circuit found in the story. For those that know this portion of history, Cassara pulls no punches, spares no one from the reality of the time. Devastating honesty. The Beauties you meet will affect you, Cassara sees to that. You may not relate to them, but you will feel for them. In my opinio Joseph Cassara has created a masterpiece in capturing a generation he is too young to have experienced. His prose is brilliant, glittering as dazzling as the mirror balls and lights in the clubs of the ball circuit found in the story. For those that know this portion of history, Cassara pulls no punches, spares no one from the reality of the time. Devastating honesty. The Beauties you meet will affect you, Cassara sees to that. You may not relate to them, but you will feel for them. In my opinion, A Little Life was the most recent important LGBT novel; HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES is just as important.
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  • Kathleen Gray
    January 1, 1970
    A beautiful book about the family we choose and the people we really are. Cassara has written a novel ostensibly about club kids in 1980 Harlem but all of these kids are so special not just because they are transgender but also because of how they walk through the world. This was a tough time for the community and Cassara doesn't pull his punches. This is an emotional, heartfelt love story for the city, the scene, but most of all these people. If you don't remember (or weren't alive) the time, s A beautiful book about the family we choose and the people we really are. Cassara has written a novel ostensibly about club kids in 1980 Harlem but all of these kids are so special not just because they are transgender but also because of how they walk through the world. This was a tough time for the community and Cassara doesn't pull his punches. This is an emotional, heartfelt love story for the city, the scene, but most of all these people. If you don't remember (or weren't alive) the time, some of this will seem odd but that's a measure of how far we've all come in our understanding and our daily relations (also our medicine.). Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. This deserves a wider distribution than I suspect it might get because of the subject matter. It's a wonderfully written and thoughtful novel that will resonate long after you put it down.
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  • Autumn
    January 1, 1970
    Very happy to have read this vibrant literary fanfiction of my favorite heroic pantheon. Honestly, I quit reading after (view spoiler)[ Venus Exxtravanganza died >, but I will probably pick it back up again to at least see how Dorian Corey wraps it all up. (hide spoiler)]
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  • Joseph Crupper
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t know if I can be the one to give a definitive rating to this book, just since I am such a huge fan of Paris is Burning. I idolize the real life people that Cassara’s characters are based on. The prose in this novel is tight, and readers who don’t know the real-life fates of Hector and Venus and Angel (Angie) will still enjoy it. Cassara portrays the world and experiences of his characters with the most realistic wonder and social disorganization. It reflects the actual identity politics I don’t know if I can be the one to give a definitive rating to this book, just since I am such a huge fan of Paris is Burning. I idolize the real life people that Cassara’s characters are based on. The prose in this novel is tight, and readers who don’t know the real-life fates of Hector and Venus and Angel (Angie) will still enjoy it. Cassara portrays the world and experiences of his characters with the most realistic wonder and social disorganization. It reflects the actual identity politics and fear of AIDS that existed in the 80s, and I am forever in love with the care with which it was crafted.My one issue with the novel is this: Jennie Livingston was accused of exploitation when she made Paris is Burning, making money off the backs of the contribution of the ball walkers and their life stories. None of the people in Cassara’s novel are alive now, and their stories are highly fictionalized, but I still think it would be in good taste for Cassara to donate some money to the still-running House of Xtravaganza. (Though Cassara probably has more claim to the culture of the Xtravaganzas than Livingston ever did.)I should have known how the novel would end, but I still felt raw when, one by one, the Xtravaganzas met their undeserved end. I am impressed with how the novel was able to make their disjointed stories fit into a perfect arc, and I think every dramatic move made during the novel pays off. Job well done, do recommend.
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    This is a gorgeous book, set in the drag queen ball scene of New York, from the late '70s to the early '90s. Angel, our main character, becomes the mother of the House of Xtravaganza, the first house for aspiring Puerto Rican queens (a drag queen house is something like a Formula 1 team, but a thousand times more fabulous, and its members relate to each other like a family). Angel is joined by sassy and beautiful Venus (born Thomas); shy banjee boy Daniel; and skilled seamstress and lost boy Jua This is a gorgeous book, set in the drag queen ball scene of New York, from the late '70s to the early '90s. Angel, our main character, becomes the mother of the House of Xtravaganza, the first house for aspiring Puerto Rican queens (a drag queen house is something like a Formula 1 team, but a thousand times more fabulous, and its members relate to each other like a family). Angel is joined by sassy and beautiful Venus (born Thomas); shy banjee boy Daniel; and skilled seamstress and lost boy Juanito. There's also Dorian, an even older queen who serves as a mentor and cultural guardian. Cassara's prose is so evocative; he effortlessly summons the smells and sounds and sights of a world most of his readers will know nothing of—the piers where kings, queens and johns cruise and mingle; Times Square strip joints; bars on Christopher Street—and his dialogue is perfect, witty and human and liberally sprinkled with Spanglish. It's a tragic book, as one set amongst the gay and trans community during those decades must be: many sisters fall, to the virus or to illegal drugs or to malevolent strangers. It's also defiantly, spectacularly beautiful, constantly reaffirming the value of the family you choose for yourself. Fans of A Little Life, RENT, and Olivia Laing's The Lonely City will all find something to love here.
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book that, to my knowledge fills a void. Like Paris is Burning, The House of Impossible Beauties follows fictionalized versions of the main members of the House of Xtravaganza, and the Harlem ball scene of the 80s and 90s. The characters feel authentic and original. Their relationships to each other are well-written. The family vibe comes through well. Angel, Venus, Dorian, Daniel, Hector and several other characters are lovingly created. We see them endure a lot of indignity and sadne This is a book that, to my knowledge fills a void. Like Paris is Burning, The House of Impossible Beauties follows fictionalized versions of the main members of the House of Xtravaganza, and the Harlem ball scene of the 80s and 90s. The characters feel authentic and original. Their relationships to each other are well-written. The family vibe comes through well. Angel, Venus, Dorian, Daniel, Hector and several other characters are lovingly created. We see them endure a lot of indignity and sadness, but also several triumphs. I would be giving away too much to name too many specifics, but this is a wonderful representation of a several LatinX members of the queer community in Harlem at a time when adopting a chosen family often meant the difference between being alone/one the streets/in often truly desperate situations and having people who can watch your back, and offer love and comfort. I think this is a particularly important book for young queers (particularly those that don't know their history.) It is vivid, and entertaining, and deeply sad. Thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco for the advanced copy of this book
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  • Oryx
    January 1, 1970
    Tough to review because the scope was too vast for the four-hundred pages it was crammed into. I would rather it focussed solely on Juanito and Daniel, given complete context of character and told their story for full emotional impact. Or even if it were two-hundred pages longer and expanded on the whole cast of characters, I wouldn't have minded that, actually I would have loved that, and then this whole story would probably have been able to breathe a little more, I may well have shed a tear, Tough to review because the scope was too vast for the four-hundred pages it was crammed into. I would rather it focussed solely on Juanito and Daniel, given complete context of character and told their story for full emotional impact. Or even if it were two-hundred pages longer and expanded on the whole cast of characters, I wouldn't have minded that, actually I would have loved that, and then this whole story would probably have been able to breathe a little more, I may well have shed a tear, would probably have wept and wept. I fear it suffered from some pretty ruthless cuts from nervous editors? The result being a book where elements will be forgotten, when the whole thing should have been unforgettable. Anyway. It was good. It just could have been a masterpiece. I can't help imagining what might have been... 3.98
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  • Melody
    January 1, 1970
    I just finished reading the ARC for this story and it’s a pretty powerful read. My full review will be available in my blog around the time the book is published. For now, know that this is a sad, compelling story. It touches on the lives of Hispanic teens that identify as trans and/or gay in 80s New York. The characters are misunderstood, don’t always make the right choices, but are ambitious and resilient.
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  • Kate Dansette
    January 1, 1970
    The story of the House of Xtravanganza, New York City's first all Latinx drag house, is a fascinating one set in an incredible era but Joseph Cassara manages to give it the treatment it deserves. From the first page the Latinx queer and trans characters own your heart.
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  • Douglas Osler
    January 1, 1970
    Not likely to appeal yo diverse readership but full of sensitivity and despair ascAids hits the characters in the book.
  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    How badly I wanted to love this book. The disappointment was heartbreaking.
  • Gina
    January 1, 1970
    A powerful piece of writing, raw, gritty, beautiful.
  • Siobhan
    January 1, 1970
    The House of Impossible Beauties is a moving and raw novel about gay and trans life in New York City in the late 1970s to the early 90s. It follows Angel, Venus, Daniel, and Juanito in the underground ball scene of Harlem as they come together and form the city’s first all-Latino house. The AIDS crisis, sex work, rejection, love, drugs, and a lot more feature in this novel that blends real life locations and characters inspired by elements of real people with fictional stories that are full of h The House of Impossible Beauties is a moving and raw novel about gay and trans life in New York City in the late 1970s to the early 90s. It follows Angel, Venus, Daniel, and Juanito in the underground ball scene of Harlem as they come together and form the city’s first all-Latino house. The AIDS crisis, sex work, rejection, love, drugs, and a lot more feature in this novel that blends real life locations and characters inspired by elements of real people with fictional stories that are full of heart and fight for life.Cassara moves between characters’ narratives to weave their personal tales and histories together before they even meet, in a way that does well to keep the reader invested in all of the main characters, who are flawed and desperate in the city and have all fled from something. The novel is about resilience and love—finding a new family as well as sex and romance—but also highlights how these cannot always protect people from the harsher sides of life. The ending of the book is quite heartbreaking, though the way it is written makes it seem part of life too.The House of Impossible Beauties blends important LGBT history with moving and vibrant characters to show the ups and downs of life, particularly for its two central characters from the start, both trans women with complicated families who look for new kinds of family. The book isn’t a particularly happy read, but it gives a real sense of the city and the trans and gay culture that underpins it.
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