Adele Pietra has heard her mother say that her destiny is carved in the same brilliantly hued granite her father and brother cleave from the Stony Creek mine: she is to marry a quarryman. But when Adele's brother, Charles, dies in a mining accident, Adele sees the chance to change her life. Enrolling at Yale as Charles, Adele assumes his identity -- and gender -- as a way to leave behind her mother's expectations and the limitations of her provincial Connecticut town.
To her own surprise, hair chopped and chest bound, Adele falls in naturally with a lively crew of undergraduates: the Jewish Harry Persky with his slick Manhattan know-how, the quiet and mysterious legacy student Phineas, and the lanky, charismatic Wick. And in many ways, Adele faces her freshman year at Yale as would any undergraduate boy: she dreads invasive PE examinations and looks forward to dances, experiments with cigarettes and reads the classics. Through her work with a questionable eugenics professor and her friendship with a local Italian family, Adele confronts her class and ethnicity as never before, all the while fearing that both her crush on Wick and her mother's well-meaning interventions will put an end to her delicate masquerade.
One part social history, one part comingof-age tale, On Borrowed Wings is an impeccably researched first novel that transports us to 1930s Yale, showing us around through the eyes of an unlikely, appealing female narrator.