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. Their 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. However, 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.
It was a three-dimensional nightmare version of some of his own drawings.
A striking, quick book about the power of imagination, friendship, and life. I certainly recommend this to anyone 12 years old and up.