Bridge to Terabithia

May 14, 2016
Bridge to Terabithia Book Cover Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Paterson
Young Adult Fiction
Trumpet Club Special Edition
January 1st, 2996
Paperback
143
Library
1977

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.

That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

(via Goodreads)

 

I read this for the first time in my 3rd grade accelerated English class. I was not prepared at the time for this book, but reading and discussing this set me up for a lifetime of book groups. This isn’t the book that really started my reading addiction, but it is a book that helped me realize you can learn a lot from literature, and discussing these ideas with others.

The smarter you are, the more things can scare you.

Jess Aarons has spent all summer practicing running. He wants nothing more than to be the fastest runner in his grade. One morning, when he is out practicing before farm chores, he meets the new girl who moved in next door. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIATheir interaction is brief and inconsequential. However, on the first day of school, Leslie wants to race. Girls don’t race with the boys. Thinking they are going to mock her, the boys let Leslie race and she bests them all. A first, Jess’s heart is broken, but soon he starts to see Leslie is a beautiful person, and they become best friends. They spend the school year building each other up, creating a magical and imaginary world of their own, and coming to terms with things like bullying and peer pressure. Bridge to Terabithia is a heart-warming coming of age story. Told from the perspective of 5th grader Jess Aarons, a boy who has spent his whole life on a farm with annoying sisters, we learn a lot about what it means to be a friend.

You’d think that this book, as one of countless books about friendship and loss geared for tweens, would get lost in the noise. Bridge-to-Terabithia-Jess-and-Leslie-bridge-to-terabithia-6915415-954-640However, what makes this book stand above the rest is that Paterson allows us to find so much common ground with our protagonists. Jesse is always trying to do what is right, what is best– but finds that his wandering mind and short temper hinder him. Jess is always trying to do right by his annoying sisters and overworked mother but finds the lack of attention from his father a challenge. Leslie, on the other hand, is the child of wealthy, intellectual parents who are always the outside. She is trying to find a balance between making friends and being herself, which is often a great challenge in school. These are two kids who could easily be anyone’s neighbor or friend.

You never know ahead of time what something’s really going to be like.

There are a great many other themes hidden in this book as well. Religion is explored. Not deeply, and primarily with a focus on Christianity, but to an interesting point. Personally, I found that the pagan-focused religion concepts were fascinating. In Terabithia, Leslie and Jess’s fantasy world, they interact with the spirits of the forest and provide offerings. When we later learn about Leslie’s agnostic upbringing, I wondered if her family had any pagan beliefs. We never find out, but it is something to wonder, being the Hippies they are (not that I have anything against Hippies or Pagans. Merely an observation).

Now, the real reason Bridge to Terabithia is such a good book is how it deals with grief. Bridge to Terabithia Rope Jess and Leslie’s life is not perfect. They bicker, as friends are wont to do. As the rainy season makes it harder and harder to cross into Terabithia by swinging their rope across the creek, Jess starts to get more and more scared. He doesn’t want to go to Terabithia as frequently because he is afraid he won’t make it across on the rope swing. Conversely, Leslie thinks he is being a big baby. One day, when it’s pouring, Jess takes off for a wonderful day visiting the Smithsonian museums. He leaves without talking to Leslie and assumes she’ll be fine with this since it’s raining so hard. Yet, when he returns, it is to tragedy. Leslie died trying to swing across the creek in the storm. The last 5th of the book is just Jess coping with this death. Since Jess and Leslie have such a complex and powerful relationship, watching his grief unfold is very intense. It’s difficult to watch Jesse go through the stages of grief. Considering their last interaction was a rocky one, it even contains the “If I had only…” notions many of us feel in loss. This unexpected twist in the book is exactly what children their age need. Often, we don’t talk to kids about death and loss– but this shows them it’s real, and it’s okay to have feelings and be upset. This is an important life lesson.

It was a three-dimensional nightmare version of some of his own drawings.

To top it all off, in 1976, a year before this book was published, Katherine Paterson’s son David was 8 years old. In that year, his friend Lisa Hill was struck by lightening and died. With this fact in mind, it’s obvious that Paterson drew upon personal experience and helped her son cope with his grief through this book. Tragic, but those life experiences that Paterson has shared will help many children for years to come better understand loss and grief.

 

A striking, quick book about the power of imagination, friendship, and life. I certainly recommend this to anyone 12 years old and up.

4 stars

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