On Borrowed Wings

A Novel

On Borrowed Wings

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.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743297837 | 
  • September 2008
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Reading Group Guide

On Borrowed Wings by Chandra Prasad
Reading Group Guide


On Borrowed Wings is the impeccably researched and imaginatively written story of Adele Pietra, a bright and restless girl raised by an unhappy couple in the granite town of Stony Creek, Connecticut. Determined not to follow in her mother's footsteps and marry a quarryman, Adele spends the summer of 1936 dreaming of escape and adventure. When her brother Charles is killed in a mining accident she sees her chance and, assuming Charles's identity and gender, enrolls as a freshman at Yale. Adele befriends a lively crew of undergraduate boys, including charismatic troublemaker Wick Foster. Despite her admirable navigation of Yale's rigorous social and academic pressures, great obstacles spring up along the way. Her work with a mentally unsound eugenics professor, her inconvenient crush on Wick, and her mother's unexpected meddling threaten to put an end to Adele's masquerade and her chance for a better life.

Questions for Discussion
1. On Borrowed Wings contains rich and historically accurate detail about a place few people have experienced firsthand. What did you learn about the collegiate experience in the first half of the 20th century, and about Yale in particular? What interested you most? What aspects of Yale's history would you have liked to have seen explored more?

2. When Amelia Earhart gives her speech at see more

About the Author

Chandra Prasad
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Chandra Prasad

Chandra Prasad is the originator and editor of -- and a contributor to -- W. W. Norton's Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, which includes original pieces by Ruth Ozeki, Danzy Senna, and Rebecca Walker. Her other works include the novella Death of a Circus, which Tom Perrotta hails as "narrated with Dickensian verve, a keen eye for historical detail, and lots of heart," and the careers guide Outwitting the Job Market. Prasad is also the author of numerous articles, which have been published by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Magazine, among others. A graduate of Yale, she lives and works in Connecticut.