The first time I read Bridge to Terabithia, I was hooked after reading just a couple of pages. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when Leslie dies, and I grieved with Jess as he tries to come to terms with losing his friend. I found the story to be powerful, and I imagined that it would help people of all ages come to terms with their own grief after losing someone they loved. I think it would be a terrible shame if readers could not borrow this title from their school or local library because it was challenged and banned.
Ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2007, 0-06-122728-5
Jess is determined that this year, his fifth grade year, he is going to be the fastest runner in his school. He has been practicing his running every morning all summer and he is sure that now he is ready, really ready. Alas for Jess, for on the first day of a school a new kid in his class wins the daily race. Worse still this new kid is his new neighbor and she is a girl who is called Leslie. Jess is both furious and mortified, and he wants nothing to do with Leslie and her strange ways.
Over time however Jess comes to accept Leslie’s friendship and then to embrace it. She is such a fascinating and wonderful person, full of ideas and stories and always willing to share her wonderful imagination with him, Jesse Aarons. The two children build an imaginary world in the woods near their houses which they name Terabithia. Leslie is the queen of this world, and Jess is the king and they have to swing over a creek on a rope to get to it. For Jess, Terabithia and Leslie are the best parts of his life and he cannot imagine his world without them.
Then, suddenly, Leslie is taken from him when the creek rope snaps and Leslie is killed in the fall. In the emptiness that follows her death, Jess cannot help feeling as if both he and Terabithia are going to wither without Leslie’s presence.
With great sensitivity and understanding Katherine Patterson explores a lonely boy’s first true friendship and his overwhelming feelings of grief when his friend tragically dies. Patterson is neither maudlin nor overly sentimental. Instead she looks at the ways in which a friendship can form. She also shows her young readers that grief is not some easy to package emotion that can be set aside once the prescribed time is up. Instead grieving is a complicated, messy and confusing process that has no rules or guidelines. One just has to muddle through as best one can.
Perhaps the best past of this book is that Patterson has made Jess realistically imperfect and easy to identify with as he struggles through life.
This book won the 1978 Newbery Medal.