"A profound tale of fantasy and legacy"
The Newberry Award winning Bridge to Terabithia touches the
heart as only a story influenced by real life experience
The book is dedicated to the author's son David Paterson
and his childhood friend Lisa Hill who was killed by a
lightning strike. The book was written while the author was
coming to terms with this tragic loss.
Jesse Aarons is boy growing up in the 70's in a rural area
outside of Washington D.C. that time forgot. He is the
middle child of five, the other four children being girls
who his mother appears to favor. He has an artistic nature
which his father attempts to discourage as not fitting to a
boy. Mr. Aarons is gone from dawn to dusk working in the
city, leaving little time for his son who gets stuck doing
all the farm work.
About to enter the 5th grade, Jess is determined to be the
fastest runner at Lark Creek Elementary School this year.
Winning has become symbolic for everything he feels
everyone expects from him. This dream is shattered when a
new family moves in to the place next door.
The new neighbors are city folk, the parents both writers
who have decided that the city is no place to raise their
child, Leslie. Leslie is just plain different. Disdained
by the girls because she wears pants to school, Leslie
enters the recess races traditionally designated for boys
only and wins. When a classroom assignment forces Leslie
to reveal the fact that her family has no television, Jess
finds it in his heart to forgive her transgression and the
two misfits become fast friends.
With Leslie, Jess can be himself and he reveals his love of
drawing to her. Leslie has a fertile imagination, no doubt
inherited from her parents and tells stories that Jess just
itches to draw.
When Leslie decides that the woods need exploring, Jess
swallows his fear of the place and together the pair
creates the magical kingdom of Terabithia where they are
King and Queen.
Aside for his time with Leslie and recess, the only other
thing Jess enjoys is their Friday music class. He has a
crush on his teacher who is unique as well. The parents
have labeled Ms. Edmunds a hippy because her appearance is
different and the songs she teaches are often political in
nature. Ms. Edmunds was the only other person besides
Leslie that Jesse could show his drawings. She'd understood
his need to draw and had even been complimentary.
Days of rain has swollen the dry creek bed between their
homes and their imaginary kingdom. Jesse who is unable to
swim is consumed by fear of crossing the creek. The excuse
he needs to avoid the situation comes when Ms. Edmunds
offers him the chance to visit the National Gallery with
her. The invitation makes Jess feel important and even
though a little guilty about missing his playtime with
Leslie and for not thinking to invite her along, he enjoys
the day immensely.
He expects to face the music when he gets home, but instead
returns to unthinkable tragedy. Jess goes through all the
stages of a person who has experienced a horrible loss,
anger, and crushing grief and comes out on the other side a
richer person for his experience. He has new insight when
it comes to others and views his teacher, his family, and
even the school bully with new eyes. He also realizes that
in order for Terabithia to retain its magic it must be
shared with others.
This story reflects the joy and pain that all humans
experience while growing up, finding our own identity and
coping with those who would keep us from it. While the
tragic aspect of the plot is painful to read, it brings
home the fact that every friendship is precious and that
even if short lived can profoundly affect the person we
become. Jess and Leslie are every child, filled with
imagination and living in a world of their own creation,
one which can't be crushed by the mundane aspects of
everyday life or even the tragic ones. They live in all of
Note: the movie for the most part stays true to the book
(David Paterson the author's son was one of the producers),
some of the nuances are lost because the story is told as
if it occurs in 2007 instead of the late 1970's, and some
of the scenes have been changed but overall there was
little poetic license take with the original text. I will
admit that I cried more reading the book even though I knew
what was going to happen. The movie though slow paced at
times moved fairly quickly through Jesse's grief to the
scene where he recreates Terabithia for his little sister.
The imagery was beautiful. Nice touch making putting the
school bully's face on the Terabithian giant!
Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Posted February 11, 2007