The House of Impossible Beauties

A Novel

Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction

Winner, Edmund White Award for Debut Novel

Winner, National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for Best Fiction Book of 2018

Finalist, Inspirational Fiction, International Latino Book Award

Finalist, LGBTQ+ Fiction, International Latino Book Award

One of Entertainment Weekly’s Best Debuts of 2018








THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (plus, a very short excerpt






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. 

Foreign Editions

UK/Commonwealth: Oneworld Publications (Feb 1, 2018)

Germany: Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag (2019)

Critical Praise

A marvelously serious, deep, artful, humane read. I’m really knocked out by this…[Cassara] managed to put actual, living, breathing human beings on the page….There’s so much downright gorgeous prose here, so many beautifully and precisely observed images, subjects, emotions. Beautiful because true.
— Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers
Underneath the grime and glitter, The House of Impossible Beauties is quietly about necessity and defiance, about love and death, about characters who ache to be alive and seen in a world that mirrors back nothing but rejection and violence.
— Nami Mun, author of Miles From Nowhere
Joy and loss clutch hands in The House of Impossible Beauties. It is a tragic book, a lyrical book, a defiant book, and ultimately a loving book. The heroines and heroes hold fast to love and Cassara clearly has deep love for every character who struts across these pages.
— Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You
In Joseph Cassara’s powerful story about the scene in New York in the 1980s, it is full of vivid characters and wonderfully authentic dialogue that reminded me of the period I spent working in the city during that time. For me, it was especially gratifying to see how important Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey — those two giants of American Contemporary Dance — feature in the life of the fabulous Xtravaganzas.
— Stuart Hopps, choreographer
Intimate and dazzling…a novel full of desire and suspense and heartbreak.
— Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy