Adele Pietra enters Yale, pulls pranks and joins the fencing team, all years before women are admitted to the university.
In the midst of the Depression, Adele and her family struggle in Stony Creek, Conn., where she and her mother take in laundry and her father and brother cut granite at the quarry. Adele’s mother has plans for her children—Adele is to marry a quarryman (an aged suitor is already chosen) and favored Charles will be sent off to Yale on scholarship. When an accident kills both father and son, bookworm Adele cuts off her hair and proposes that she go to Yale in her brother’s place. With her mother’s approval, Adele is off to New Haven, dressed in her brother’s clothes. Although it seems unlikely that a short haircut and a wool suit is convincing enough, Adele fits in as a man. Best friend Harry, a Jewish New Yorker, feels a kinship with Adele (now known as Charlie) and her working class roots, while rich, charismatic Wick befriends the two along with the reserved Phin, and the foursome conquer freshman year together. Adele faces the same challenges (though none academic, as she’s a whiz) of adjustment as the others, and she manages quite well considering her double identity. She brings a girl to the dance, takes up fencing and works for a eugenics professor collecting data on the working classes, all the while falling in love with Wick. Unconvincingly, Adele’s gender masquerade has little effect on her personality. As the term ends, events coincide to threaten her secret identity. But even if she manages to fool everyone for another year, one question haunts her: Degree now in hand, will she have to live the rest of her life as a man?
A sincere, though not wholly believable debut.