Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson © 1977
Published by HarperCollins
1978 Newbery Medal winner
As one of the few who had never read the book OR seen the movie, reading Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, was not what I had expected. I had seen the movie trailers with the fantasy monsters and the children in historical garb, so I assumed it was a fantasy story. Actually, it’s a real-life story about two kids with fantastic imaginations.
Jess Aarons has a hard time fitting in. He’s the only boy in his family, stuck between four sisters. He desperately wants his parents’ acceptance, but never quite seems to measure up. He has a talent for art, which is considered a waste of time by his rural farm family. Deep down, he’d really like to make his father proud, and as the story begins, Jess has big plans to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He spends his whole summer training for the race on that first day back at school, imagining all the while how it would feel when he won.
"Maybe Dad would be so proud he'd forget all about how tired he was from the long drive back and forth to Washington and the digging and hauling all day. He would get right down on the floor and wrestle, the way they used to. Old Dad would be surprised at how strong he'd gotten in the last couple of years."
But there’s a new kid in town, a girl, named Leslie Burke. Leslie is different from all the other girls at Jess’ school. She comes from the city, she dresses differently, she doesn’t even play with the other girls at recess, but instead dares the boys to let her race.
And she wins.
Even so, Jess and Leslie become the best of friends. Leslie introduces Jess to the wonders of imagination, as they create their very own secret place in the woods, the kingdom of Terabithia, where they reign together as king and queen. In Terabithia, their real-life problems become monsters to be defeated, and Jess and Leslie gain strength from their imagined battles. In this way, they help each other through the typical struggles of fifth-grade life, and become as close as two friends can be.
But the story ends in tragedy, adding further to the impact that Leslie has on Jess’ life.
Bridge to Terabithia is incredibly well written, the ending is extremely touching (make sure you have plenty of tissues if you read it) but it was a bit of a downer for me. With all the magic in the kingdom of Terabithia, I had hoped for a little more “happily ever after.”