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The House of Impossible Beauties

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  3,181 ratings  ·  604 reviews
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 H ...more
ebook, 416 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Ecco (first published February 1st 2018)
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Trish Mcintosh Love this. I think the book would have benefited from changing the names. It felt like personal to have the names of people who couldn't possibly have…moreLove this. I think the book would have benefited from changing the names. It felt like personal to have the names of people who couldn't possibly have consented. Don't do fiction with real people's names attached to the characters.(less)

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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  3,181 ratings  ·  604 reviews

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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, ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Set in the eighties amidst the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, The House of Impossible Beauties brings to life the daily struggles of the members of the House of Xtravaganza, the first all-Latinx house in the Harlem ball circuit. The sprawling story follows a small cast of characters—Angel, Venus, Hector, Dorian, Juanito, and Daniel—as they come of age while navigating the many trials of love, sex work, financial instability, addiction, and ball culture. Incredibly fast paced, the novel lacks any ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Elyse  Walters
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Update.... Audible Daily special $5.95 .... or maybe the library has it...
I thought it was an engaging book in audiobook format!

Audiobook... read by Christian Barillas...( excellent reader)

I didn’t know anything about the Ball culture, (drag-ball culture), of the ‘80’s in NYC, until this novel which is inspired by true events.

The story starts out strong. We get a clear look into the queer and trans Latin-American community- as well as a strong sense of time and place.

The main characters are:
Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I was a member of the American Library Association's Over the Rainbow Booklist Committee for 2018, and this book made our top ten list for fiction and non-fiction books for adults.

I am going to go ahead and borrow the committee's annotation for a brief description:
“For fans of the FX show Pose or the documentary Paris Is Burning, Cassara lovingly documents the NYC ball scene of the 1980s when queer people of color were able to compete in a vicious and loving environment of fierce queens with eve
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A powerful novel set in 1980s New York City that centers a cast of queer and trans characters of color. While the burgeoning Harlem ball scene occurs in the periphery of the story, most of the narration sheds light on each of the character's backgrounds and what brings them together. Joseph Cassara describes immense suffering in these pages, ranging from transphobic abusive parents to the lethal HIV virus to drug abuse. As a queer person of color who sometimes distances himself from the queer co ...more
shady boots
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
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 ...more
Paula Bardell-Hedley
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Paula by: NetGalley
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 expressionis
Katie Lumsden
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fantastic novel, though very sad and hard-hitting in places. The writing style is brilliant, and the examination of this particular point in the 1980s/90s and the book's exploration of gender and sexuality was just fantastic. ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Emily May
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, 2018
“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,
Eric Anderson
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Alexis Hall
This is a sad queer book, centred on latinx queer and trans people in New York during the 1980s. It touches upon the AIDs crisis and the ballroom scene, is clearly heavily inspired by Paris is Burning, potentially the most recent Pose, and the still-extant House of Xtravaganza and … I am super, super aware I am, like, way out of my lane.

I know I write non-sad queer books as a kind of act of defiance against the idea that our stories are inevitably or necessary sad. That doesn’t mean, however, th
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Dennis by: Dusty Drosche
The House of Impossible Beauties is a tragic story of how trans-women of color in the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s handled the stigma that is attached to them by cisgendered society during the AIDS crisis. Wow, that is one heck of a sentence, but it definitely describes this story well. If you ever watched Paris is Burning or Pose, this story will definitely resonate with you. It's a powerful character study of a time period that is often overlooked, and definitely not talked about in schoo ...more
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those novels that is equal parts frustration, exasperation, and brilliance. Despite being flawed and often too rough around the edges, the characters are so vividly drawn that the reader cannot help being sucked up into the maelstrom of their lives. And what a maelstrom it is.

This book first popped up on my radar a while ago. Soon thereafter I started watching Ryan Murphy’s Pose on Netflix. Out of curiosity, I finally started reading the Joseph Cassara novel. I was so struck by th
Nat K
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-books, dnf
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
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: queer-reads, fiction
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 ...more
Christopher Alonso
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latinx, lgbtq
Review forthcoming, but all I'm gonna say is wowowow this hurt me, and I encourage everyone to read it. ...more
K.G. Delmar
Apr 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
This review will contain heavy spoilers.

I went into this book excited, as I am in the LGBT community and love ball culture. I've consumed a lot of the big ball culture-related content that's out there (Paris is Burning, Kiki, My House, POSE, etc.) so this seemed like a natural progression. This is the first one to really disappoint me, and I'm talking on a very serious level.

My problem with this book isn't the writing. If anything, that's the one thing I enjoyed to an extent. But I got the impr
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
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
Jessica Sullivan
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.

Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Bek MoonyReadsByStarlight
My head is still reeling from finishing this. Not only did this book completely emotionally break me, it did so while completely immersing me in the atmosphere of the era and in the lives of the characters. This book goes between perspectives, showing the lives of several gay men and trans women as they begin to weave together and fray apart through time. While many parts of the book are peppered with wit, it does not shy away from the dark realities of queer people during the 80's and 90's. The ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Joseph Crupper
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Passing is an art form, darling. It’s a craft. And just like any craft, the artistic ideal is always impossible to achieve. We can try and try and try as hard as possible to pass as a woman, but if I’m a biological man, I can only go up to a certain point. The rest is all imagination. But just because it’s impossible doesn’t mean that should stop someone. We shoot to come as close to that perfection as we possibly can. I think Angel and Venus were impossible beauties—anyone could look at them a
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