“Joseph Cassara's debut novel follows the life of Angel, a young transgender woman who goes on to become the "House Mother" of the legendary House of Xtravaganza. Gritty, yet always tender, House of Impossible Beauties explores the 1980's Harlem drag ball scene made famous in Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning in a way that is humanizing, deeply interesting, and impossible to put down. I was so entranced with this book that I went through it twice: once on the page and once on audio, which might have been an even more interesting experience, simply because narrator Christian Barillas presents a singular performance, uniquely emulating each character in a way that tattoos them indelibly on the mind. A 10/10 listening experience.”
Rachel, The King's English Bookshop
A gritty and gorgeous debut that follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ball scene of the 1980s and ’90s, inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza made famous by the seminal documentary Paris Is Burning
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.