When a woman dons the clothes of a man and dresses against her sex, she not only disguises herself but she does indeed take on the power and the position of the rightful owner of those garments. It’s like Halloween, when you dress as your favorite superhero or princess or whatever and for a time (at least when you are a child and still able to inhabit your imagination to its fullest), you are that personage.
Adele Pietra, daughter of stone cuttes and younger sister of a Yale-bound man, becomes her brother in order to fullfil the promise that his death left open. Not only does she rise above her station in the dark days of the Great Depression, but she lives behind Adele to become Charles and to earn the education that should have been hers by the right of her natural intellect and intelligence.
The unlikely supporter of this deception is her mother — unlikely because Adele’s unhappy and disapointed mother doesn’t seem to like her very much, let alone be willing to put up with the work and stress of launching her daughter on an insane plan that’s doomed to failure at any moment.
Fortunately for Adele, young men and young women, as unalike as they are in hormones, are enough alike to for her to pass as her brother, and thus begin her adventures.
Chandra Prasad is a gifted writer. She fully fleshes out the character of Adele and her school mates. I’m especially glad that Prasad doesn’t give Adele any kind of squeamishness about sex (Yes, men and women even back in those almsot forgotten times were aware of and wished to act upon their feelings and desires). Adele knows what she wants, but also knows that getting it isn’t going to be at all easy.
Adele’s mother,is, however, a cipher. Too mean to be believable, her various twists and turns are functions of the plot and do not grow organically from the character. Adele’s classmates fade into the background at times, and I wished to see and understand more about Jerry Persky, another outsider at Yale. There were a few too many college escapades that did not move the plot along but seem to exist as set pieces without really being of much use to the plot. Not so Adele’s friendship with a working-class family, which does indeed require the protagonist to look at herself and evaluate her world.
Chandra Prasad is a good writer with a great future ahead of her. She will learn more as she goes along writing about what she needs to say, and she will learn to say it clearly and closer to her own heart.