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On Borrowed Wings

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  329 ratings  ·  58 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 19th 2007 by Atria
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Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's not often that I finish a book then say immediately afterward, "That was a really good book."

Truly. I never speak my thoughts aloud, express them to the air. But this book moved me, in good ways and bad.

A little history on how I read the book: I bought it off the Apple ebook store a year or two ago. I started reading it. I found it interesting, but I did not finish it. Last night I decided, hell, I should finish reading it! So I did because I recalled the premise: a girl goes to Yale in p
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chandra Prasad's On Borrowed Wings has joined the ranks of favorite books that I like to revisit from time to time. It is most thoroughly a comfort read, if only because I know how things end and find the book a completely satisfying read. Not all the questions are answered and frankly the second time around I am still left wanting more, but this is such a wonderful story questioning gender roles, and crossing class and cultural boundaries that it may be comforting to read, but it is most certai ...more
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Marta Morrison for

The year is 1936. In the small town of Stony Creek there lives a family of four. There is the mother, a washer woman who used to be a privileged daughter of a professor until she married the father, an Italian quarry man. They had two children, a boy, Charles, and a daughter, Adele.

Charles is the apple of his mother's eye and is being groomed to go to Yale on scholarship. Adele is her father's favorite and her mom is preparing her to be the wife of
Nov 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: women's education historians, yalies, literacy activists, boarding school obsessives
chandra prasad edited the anthology mixed, which is a collection of stories about being mixed race. her editor intro thing said that she was coming out with a novel shortly about a young woman who poses as a boy in the 1930s in order to attend yale (before yale went co-ed, obvs). for some reason, this idea captured my imagination, & i was breathless with excitement, waiting for the book to show up at the library. well, this is that book, & yeah, the protaganist assumes the male identity ...more
Tara Chevrestt
What a lovely story!!! And so many stories in one... so many issues dealt with by the characters.. There is a well to do, spoiled girl that marries "beneath" her and is indefinetly estranged from her parents. There is a tense marriage between an Italian immigrant and a woman not quite used to doing for herself. There is sibling rivalry as one child is always favored over the other. There is mother/daughter discord, death, grief, and of course, the main plot, a girl dressing as a boy to attend Ya ...more
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Set in 1930's on the Yale campus, so it was of particular interest to me. Adele in the guise of a young man, enrolls at Yale. She's a tough cookie, which is admirable, but at the same time sensitive and concerned about the less fortunate in her community. She grapples with moral issues, intellectual honesty, and loyalty to a mother who does not understand her ambition.

I wouldn't say that it was a "great" or "sweeping" book that changed my life, but as a vignette of history, it was well-research
May 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
To escape a small town, a girl pretends to be her dead brother to get into Princeton in the 1930's. I had a hard time believing the plausibility of the novel. There were some interesting themes that never went anywhere. The relationship with her mother was the only part that was really well established. It seemed to have a rushed ending where everything was wrapped up into a neat, tidy bow. Wouldn't recommend.
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, modern, new-age
This book is perfectly written. Miss Prasad's prose is certainly one which will keep you hanging onto the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next to Charles/Adele. Great, worthwhile read! I've never been a fan of fiction set back in the earlier eras, but the tinge of feminism, and drive of adversity held my interest up until I finished reading.<3
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book.
Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: good-fiction
I picked this book up from the bargain table at Borders this summer because I liked the dust jacket. I knew nothing about this book going in (which is how I like to read) and it took me to a place I didn't expect or see coming at all. It had me most of the way (I'd say 3/4), but the other 1/4 of what makes an exceptional book is that things just feel right. And for some reason, this didn't. Certain things that happened were contrived; some of the situations just didn't seem possible; Adele did t ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it liked it
For some reason, I felt like I read this book before. Or maybe I felt like the book was so contrived that it couldn't have really happened the way it did in this novel. Whatever.[return][return]Adele Pietra grew up in a limestone quarry town and her father and brother are unexpectedly killed in a mining accident. Her brother had just been accepted into Yale. (This is the first thing that seemed strange to me. Adele discusses how much brighter she is than her brother, yet the poor boy gets into Y ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Oh the soul in this story! Wonderful writing and personal suspense with insightful observations. Adele is intelligent, curious, full of dreams like her father, and determined to go places and escape her childhood poverty. Through fortuitous events, she becomes a male student at Yale. Will she be found out?

Her three closest male friends at Yale take her along on youthful adventures, pranks, and experiences she couldn't have imagined. She learns much, gives much, hides much and grows. Her spirit
Jun 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-fiction
This is the story of Adele Pietra and her coming of age as a woman in 1930s Connecticut. After losing her brother and father in a tragic accident, she decides (with her mother's help) to assume her brother's identity and take his place at Yale. She and her mom spend weeks on how to dress and walk and act like a man and then off she goes. I really enjoyed reading this book - the character of Adele is compelling and believable. Her struggles with fitting in with her male classmates (and dealing wi ...more
Bonnie Irwin
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This novel has so man things to commend it. Prasad's gentle tone and well-developed characters make one want to walk into the narrative and experience it from the inside out. The issues--identity; coming of age; gender, class, and ethnic differences; family relationships; friendship and trust; academic politics--all resonate for the contemporary reader, even though the book is set at Yale in the 30's. As Adele navigates her strange new world and overcomes so many obstacles to her success, we che ...more
Oct 02, 2008 rated it liked it
A little bit "Breaking Away", a little bit "Boys Don't Cry" - Adele comes from poverty in a town with a huge divide between those who have and those who don't. Tragedy strikes and she ends up assuming her brother's identity as a freshman at Yale in the 1930's - when girls were not admitted - and learns to live her own dreams rather than the dreams of her mother. But the book felt incomplete - just when it was becoming really interesting, it ended. Also, a few of the characters, specifically the ...more
Mar 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Finished this book in a matter of hours. Well-written, quite well-written, but a little bit fluffy at times with themes and motifs that were a little too easy to pick out of the narrative. Some characters came across as stock characters rather than original creations, and a few potentially interesting subplots -- Adele's guilt over having resented her brother so much only to see him die tragically, why Chadwick Foster is so convinced he's a terrible person (I was expecting a legitimate dark secr ...more
Jun 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Would not have chosen to read this book; it was a book club choice. The premise was
far-fetched, the characters mostly one-dimensional, and I had to suspend disbelief
a number of times to continue reading. Maybe it would be an entertaining read for young teen-age girls. There is some social history here, and the idea of a girl masquerading as a boy in an all male school might be a fun read for that age group.
Ellen Ramsey
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fascinating novel about Adele Pietra, a young woman masquerading as her brother Charles so she can take his place at Yale in the 1930s. I was engrossed by Adele's character and her strength of will as she encounters many obstacles during her first year at Yale. When I read the ending, I wanted to know more—how long can Adele maintain her identity as a man? When and how can she resume her real identity?
Jan 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was recommended to me by my friend Diana, and it's a really interesting meditation on gender and ethnic identity. Like Diana mentioned to me, it at first seems like an ideal high school read, but it really picks up during the last third, where the novel becomes a very adult treatment of how one person can rebel against sexist and racist forces in the form of crossdressing and thwarting eugenicists' aims.
Sep 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
The time frame was off, I did not believe the plot was plausible; the story dated in 1936 the slang was not believable she couldn't convenience me that was the year this story took place. The story was predictable did not like and was irritated that the story had little depth, few struggles fitting in, I doubt that the rich and poor students socialized as easily as author portrayed.
Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I was more interested in some storylines than others. Great premise however I was a bit disappointed with plot, not much actually happens over a long time and then quite a lot happens over a short time. The themes were rather obvious and I think the character could have been more complex. Overall pretty unsatisfying but points for a great subject matter.
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub-2012-13
The writing flows smoothly but is not stellar. It's an interesting story, but LOTS of inconsistencies. And several places where the actions of the characters are totally unbelievable. Some characters are introduced and then dropped, themes are started and then not developed, sub-plots don't fit in naturally.
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007
Not bad. There wasn't the big climax that I had anticipated - how/when/to whom would Adele reveal herself at Yale. The author did introduce a few too many subplots that were not maintained throughout the story, although all had some sort of resolution.
Aug 21, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a fun book to read especially reading about place in New Haven and Branford I know. Also some Yale history was interesting. Not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I not had an interest in the setting of the story.
Dec 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
read for book club
liked New Haven locale
liked main character and her dilemmas about being a young woman in a man's world
liked writing style
would read more Chandra Prasad
glad to support local talent!
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This one is superb.
Mar 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
ugh. couldn't even get past the first couple of chapters.
Lara Mayeux
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
Eh, it was okay. It ended nicely. Prasad's style of writing is not my thing. Perhaps a tad Yale? ;)
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Nakakabitin ang ending ng story.
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“In the mornings I awoke with salty crust of tears around my eyes--my grief struggling to surface when I was in my weakest, lost in sleep. But by day I would not allow myself to feel. My misery was muted; it had to be. If I faced it in earnest, I would truly drown.” 2 likes
“Mother once said I’d marry a quarryman. She looked at me as we washed clothes in the giant steel washtub, two pairs of water-wrinkled hands scrubbing and soaking other people’s laundry. We were elbow-deep in dirty suds and our fingers brushed under the foamy mounds.

“Some mistakes are bound to be repeated,” she murmured

We lived in Stony Creek, a granite town at a time when granite was going out of fashion. There were only three types of men here: Cottagers, rich, paunchy vacationers who swooped into our little Connecticut town in May and wiled away time on their sailboats through August; townsmen, small-time merchants and business owners who dreamed of becoming Cottagers; and quarrymen, men like my father, who worked with no thought to the future.

The quarrymen toiled twelve hours a day, six days a week. They didn’t care that they smelled of granite dust and horses, grease and putty powder. They didn’t care about cleaning the crescents of grime from underneath their fingernails. Even when they heard the foreman’s emergency signal, three sharp shrieks of steam, they scarcely looked up from their work. In the face of a black powder explosion gone awry or the crushing finality of a wrongly cleaved stone, they remained undaunted.

I knew why they lived this way. They did it for the granite. Nowhere else on earth did such stone exist—mesmerizing collages of white quartz, pink and gray feldspar, black lodestone, winking glints of mica. Stony Creek granite was so striking, it graced the most majestic of architecture: the Battle Monument at West Point, the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Fulton Building in Pittsburgh, the foundations of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. The quarrymen of Stony Creek would wither and fall before the Cottagers, before the townsmen. But the fruits of their labor tethered them to a history that would stand forever.

“You’ll marry one, Adele—I’m sure of it. His hands will be tough as buckskin, but you’ll love him regardless,” Mother told me, her breath warm in my ear as the steam of the wastewater rose around us.

I didn’t say that she was wrong, that she couldn’t know what would happen. I’d learned that from the quarry. Pa was a stonecutter and he cut the granite according to rift and grain, to what he could feel with his fingertips and see with his eyes. But there were cracks below the surface, cracks that betrayed the careful placement of a chisel and the pounding of a mallet. The most beautiful piece of stone could shatter into a pile of riprap. It all depended on where those cracks teased and wound, on where the stone would fracture when forced apart.

“Keep your eyes open, Adele. I don’t know who it will be—a steam driller, boxer, derrickman, powderman? Maybe a stonecutter like your father?”

I turned away from her, feigning disinterest. “There’s no predicting, I told her.”
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