Regular price: $34.22

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free.
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price.
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love.
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel.
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month.
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

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 17-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.

©2018 Joseph Cassara (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Narrator Christian Barillas's respectful performance successfully navigates a potential obstacle course of stereotypes, starting with his authentic-sounding Spanglish and Puerto Rican accent, which solidly place this heartrending story in the Latino community. In addition, he deftly sidesteps cartoonish inflections while infusing the characters' dialogue with an outward sassiness and a hint of their deep vulnerability. Listeners will long remember the experiences of these young people who are uncomfortable with the expectations of their birth gender or sexual preference and who want nothing more than acceptance and love." (AudioFile)  

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    31
  • 4 Stars
    11
  • 3 Stars
    10
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    4

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    41
  • 4 Stars
    7
  • 3 Stars
    3
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    4

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    33
  • 4 Stars
    9
  • 3 Stars
    9
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    4
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

As real as it gets

The House of Impossible Beauties threw me into a world I knew close to nothing about. The Harlem Ball scene of the 80s and 90s was a culture born of intense, largely unrecognized struggle, and Joseph Cassara’s fictional ode to the time is likewise chock full of character. Pure, undiluted, super-concentrated character. This book is brutal. It is unflinching, and it is as real as it gets.

Like have you ever seen Requiem for a Dream? It’s on the same page of, “Wow, I can’t believe anyone could endure this,” type emotional shock. But where that movie follows a drug addict's bleak downward spiral, Cassara’s characters never fail to demonstrate a life-affirming and indomitable strength that is, simply put, beautiful.

Joseph Cassara clearly vetted narrator Christian Barillas super closely, as this is a book that demands fluidity between languages, genders, and class all at once—I think it would have been an impossible task for nearly anyone else, but Barillas nails it.

**This book is graphic**

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

An OK book, that could be better

I was really excited about this book. As a gay guy, and as a fan of the ball scene you don't get to find something many books with characters you can relate to. This audiobook however did not live up to my expectations.
The story has many good moments that are entertaining and worth listening to. Nevertheless, I think the book could have a lot more about the ball scene, about vogging, about transitioning into trans and about other queens from the xtravaganza house as well as others.
The main thing that I would change about the story is that it was awfully, and unnecessarily harsh. I know the real characters must have had struggles, but the fictional version could have balanced the difficult parts with the happy ones. Specially the ending could have been a bit more optimistic.
About the interpretation of the audiobook I would complain that sometimes it felt a bit flat. Also, there were many unnecessary repetition of a monotonous "he said" "she said". This may not be a problem in the written version of the book, but are extremely repetitive in the audiobook.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Heartbreakingly Honest

I tend to stay away from LGBTQ fiction because the narrative tends to be similar:cis (usually white) guy falls in love with a straight (also usually white)cis guy. This narrative can get boring and i rarely see myself in a character. This book was SO different. I could see myself and the people I’ve loved and, sometimes, lost in these characters. Everything felt so familiar that I couldn’t put it down because it felt like I was suddenly remembering a memory I had forgotten. The tragedy, the love, the shade, the sorrow, the longing,the realness...it’s all here.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful and painful

This book left me stunned. The performance by Christian Barillas is gorgeous and brings the story to life. Anyone who has seen Paris Is Burning will appreciate this book, but you won’t need a reason to care deeply about these characters. Each one is richly drawn and full of conflict.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Wow

This book was gut wrenching, beautiful and will be impossible to forget. Don’t even want to read anything else right away because I want to reflect on this experience some more.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Wonderful character studies

The performance was spot on, and a lot of the book was very entertaining and an interesting look into a lifestyle I am certainly aware of, but know little about. Very poignant. The book was just overly long. There are long sections of the book of interactions and conversations that go nowhere, do nothing to add to the storyline.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

It’s like To Wong Foo on steroids.

This depiction of the gay boy’s life during the early days of the AIDS tragedy is an epic journey of ups and downs. The narrator makes each character come to life with a different voice and dialect. Thanks for everything, Julie Newmar.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

The House of Impossible Beauties

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Starts strong, but...

If you could sum up The House of Impossible Beauties in three words, what would they be?

The book starts strong and keeps up it's momentum for almost 2/3rds of it's length, but slowly descends into a bit of a slog of terrible things befalling our characters until it ends up being a bit like misery porn. The era and people it's exploring certainly does not make for happy endings, but it starts to feel like a checklist of the undignified ways LGBTQ people died in the late 80's/early 90's.

That said, there's some beautiful writing along the way, and you'll truly care about the characters, especially if you've seen PARIS IS BURNING. The book is also all brought to vivid life by the MAGNIFICENT Christian Barillas (legitimately one of the Top 3 audiobook performances I've heard). I just wish the ending had been a bit more inspired, even in it's misery.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

A Little Shade

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I really wanted to like this book. It has a number of positive qualities. Cassara gives voice to queer and trans Latinx experiences typically excluded from popular fiction. It also has a strong sense of time and place, much more so than A LITTLE LIFE (a book to which this one is frequently compared). Yet, it lacked a compelling plot. I finished out of a sense of obligation, not because the story moved me forward.