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Cress Delahanty
Cress Delahanty
Author: Jessamyn West
ISBN: 73466
Pages: 214
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Publisher: Pocket Books/Scholastic Books
Book Type: Paperback
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Feminist Press (which published a recent edition of this book) says:
Published the same year as Catcher in the Rye, Cress Delahanty is also a comic novel of adolescence, but the scene is a citrus ranch in Southern California, the subject is change rather than stasis, and two very lively parents are part of the story. When the novel opens, Cress is twelve; when it closes, she is sixteen and a freshman at college. In between, like Holden Caulfield, Cress suspects that, to be a person, she needs to be somehow distinguishable, if not different from other people. In fact, at thirteen, she believes that she must have a âtrademarkâ personality if she is to be âknownâ at school. And so she adopts âcrazyâ as her distinguishing feature, planning various kinds of behavior that make her notoriously comic, even to teachers and administrators. For a time she is pleased, but then at the end of year, when she wants to be elected freshman editor and gives a sober speech describing her writing talents and sense of responsibility, the whole assembly responds to her with laughter, thinking her seriousness is another joke. They elect her to be the Josh editor, an indignity she refuses, returning home in tears.

Through this segment and the rest of the novel, Cress's parents are present and engaged in discussing their daughter who resembles and even seems to be recapitulating not her mother's adolescence, but her father's. Cress's mother is horrified to discover that her daughter, like her husband, writes lists. The first of these for Cress denotes traits that might distinguish her as a special person at school. While her mother sometimes tells Cress she is behaving badly or irrationally, her father, who tells her that he too chose a âtrademarkâ at thirteen that ultimately made him miserable, urges Cress to learn for herself. And she does learn for herself, here, and through a variety of encounters in the novelâ"with boys a bit older than she, with girlfriends, with older women, with an older man (and his wife), and finally, with her dying grandfather.

Comedy is one of the novel's distinguishing features, from an episode with the irate parents of a very quiet young man whose front teeth Cress has accidentally knocked out, to an incident with a red straw hat covered with fruit and flowers she wears to entice the same young man, Edwin. He appears just as the hat falls to the bottom of a fish tank dying the water blood red, and causing the owner of the tank to shriek at her and allowing Edwin to say a word in her defense. More delicately comic are the responses of Cress's bewildered parents, and a few moments of tendernessâ"with her grandfather after her grandmother's death, for example, and with him at his death. Unlike Catcher, Cress strikes many different chords through which one grasps not only the changing breadth of the young woman's character, but of her parents and others in the novel, particularly Edwin, the young man who reappears several times. This is a rare book, wise yet entirely entertaining, and brief so that, at its end, one longs for more episodes.


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