What a beautiful case of serendipity in my books this week! I read The House of Impossible Beauties first, and then picked up All the Young Men. Both of these books are great additions to any queer TBRs, but they also dive into the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. While The House of Impossible Beauties was good, it could have been better. However, I LOVED All the Young Men and highly recommend it to everyone!
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
Loosely based on the documentary, Paris is Burning, Joseph Cassara takes on the NYC world of 1980s ball culture. I had no idea what that meant before this book, but it was when queer people of color competed in fierce drag queen competitions. As AIDS began to ravage the community, they built homes of chosen family – places where they could feel love and acceptance, and where they were free to be who they wanted to be.
The House of Impossible Beauties deep dives into each of the characters’ lives. It’s heart-wrenching and difficult to read at times, and I felt this overwhelming sense of despair. There are themes of abusive parents, drugs, rape, HIV/AIDs infections, and discrimination against queer people. But depsite those tough topics, Cassara also breathes an incredible amount of life into his characters. They persevere and provide the love and hope to each other that they are missing from their biological families.
This debut opened my eyes up to a time period I knew nothing about. It took me awhile to get through it because it was quite difficult reading at times. The pacing is also slow, but I was too invested in the story and the characters to put it down without finishing. It’s definitely not a book for the faint of heart…but I’m happy I finally prioritized it and read it.
All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks
This book completed an unintentional ficiton/nonfiction book pairing; it totally complimented The House of Impossible Beauties!
If there is one time period in history that completely breaks my heart, it has to be the way the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was handled. Not only were many queer people shunned from their families and loved ones, but then we had a government that refused to acknowledge what was happening in regards to HIV and AIDS. Queer people were left to die alone, stripped of their dignity and without an ounce of love or compassion from so many in the medical fields.
Thank goodness for people like Ruth Coker Burks…a woman who selflessly inserted herself into a crisis with her whole heart and soul. What was a chance encounter with a gay man on his death bed in a hospital that treated him like a leper, turned into a calling that changed Burks’ life forever. She became a tireless advocate for people with AIDS; she loved them when no one else would, she gave them dignity in their death, and she advocated for the entire community to help them get funds and resources.
This is an incredible memoir – one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only do I admire Burks for her work within the AIDS context, but I was beyond impressed with her resilience, determination, and attitude in the face of so many challenges. If I could have just an ounce of her moxie, I’d be set!
(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)