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The House of Impossible Beauties

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3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,507 Ratings  ·  321 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
Hardcover, 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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Paromjit
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
Tammy
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
...more
Blair
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
shady boots | #WatchPOSE
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
...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 expressionism.
...more
Sara
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
...more
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
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
...more
Emily May
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: mma-2018, 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, an
...more
Neil
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, netgalley
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
...more
Christopher Alonso
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq
Review forthcoming, but all I'm gonna say is wowowow this hurt me, and I encourage everyone to read it.
Gabriella
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Doug
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
...more
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.

Th
...more
Laura
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, queer-reads
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
Elizabeth☮
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
...more
Ashley
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 ...more
jo
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Matthew
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
MaryBeth's Bookshelf
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
...more
Teresa
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Greg
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, reviewed
"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
...more
Rod-Kelly Hines
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
...more
Al
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, owned
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 ...more
Aaron Elliott
Apr 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Allan
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heard about this through a NYT review. Right up my street in setting, and in its focus on an undertold social history aspect, in narrative as well.

The lives of the characters and indeed those on whose real lives they were based, were, to the outside eye, unbearably difficult, but in this novel, Cassara does an amazing job of showing the compassion and love they had for each other, alienated as they were from 'society'.

Don't expect happy endings, but know that this is one of the best books I have
...more
Marc
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
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!
Rachel
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 ...more
Vivek Tejuja
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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“Life is a ferocious motherfucker, that’s what I always say. And it’s not death that you need to worry about. He always comes, and he’s usually quiet about it. But life, boy. She is loud and fast and—vicious.” 6 likes
“So I always say that when the world calls you a slut, just kick back your legs and fuck and enjoy it. Because if life don’t call you a slut, she’s gonna find something else to call you.” 1 likes
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