Fierce, tender, and heartbreaking.

THE HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES

A first-time novelist visits queer Harlem in the 1980s.

Founded in 1982, the House of Xtravaganza was the first strictly Latinx house to join New York’s ballroom community, the gay subculture brought to the popular consciousness in 1990 by Madonna's “Vogue” and the film Paris Is Burning. Although Cassara is careful to note that his debut is a work of imagination, this is a story about the House of Xtravaganza, the people who created it, and the people who made it their home. Angel—loosely based on Angie Xtravaganza, the first “mother” of the house—is 16 when the book starts, living in the Bronx and beginning the transition from “Angel the he” to “Angel the she.” A chance encounter with the gorgeous Jaime leads to the acquisition of a silver dress and satisfying sex but, more importantly, a sense of possibility. The newly liberated Angel becomes an acolyte to (real-life) drag queen Dorian Corey, which leads Angel to an affair with Hector, who will establish the House of Xtravaganza (in both fiction and fact). The word “house” is both a nod to Paris ateliers and an acknowledgement that ball culture functioned as a home to people who were not welcome elsewhere, just as the titles “mother” and “father” have a special meaning to queer, cross-dressing, and transgender kids rejected by their families of origin. As Hector and Angel build their family of choice, the novel acquires new characters and perspectives, and it presents a wide-lens view of the joys and sorrows of a culture created by racial and sexual minorities. AIDS, of course, casts a terrible shadow over the community depicted here. But this is not, primarily, a social novel. In terms of tone and style, it's closer to Valley of the Dolls than Giovanni’s Room, and this feels absolutely appropriate. Glamour is a refuge to Angel, Hector, and the kids to whom they give a home. Their stories deserve a bit of glitter.

Fierce, tender, and heartbreaking.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-267697-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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