Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West. Harcourt, Brace (1953), 311 pp.
Cress Delahanty is twelve years old at the start of this collection of short stories. She lives on a ranch in eastern Orange County with her father, John, an orange grower, and her mother, Gertrude. Cress is an imaginative and well-meaning girl who is prone to getting into minor scrapes. In the second story, for example, she tries to prevent the humiliation of a sweet and sensitive classmate, Edwin Keebler, and winds up knocking out his front teeth. Fourteen more episodes follow, taking Cress up to age sixteen.
These are coming-of-age stories in which Cress learns more about the world and herself. She remains completely serious as she concocts zany solutions to problems with friends (especially boys), parents and other adults. Though a few of the stories have a somber hue, the overall tone of the book is light. The most humorous tales are those that take the viewpoint of Cress’s bemused parents as they try to figure out what she’s up to next. Because grown-ups are West’s main audience, the stories are devoid of predigested life lessons. For this reason teenage girls today might still enjoy the book. Her slightly later collection, Life, Death and the Ladies’ Drill Team (1955) lacks the wittiness and coherence of this one.