Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Nine stars

Needing a short book before beginning another major reading challenge, I turned to this piece by Katherine Paterson. It’s one I enjoyed in upper elementary, though many of the details have slipped my mind, which makes a re-read all the more justifiable. Jess Aarons is eager to begin the fifth grade. He hopes to finally be able to call himself the fastest boy in school, having risen early to practice all summer long. When a new family moves in next door, Jess is curious to see what to make of them. Having moved from Arlington, Virginia, they are sure to have money and likely the attitude to go with it. When Jess meets Leslie Burke, she is nothing like he expected. A tomboy if ever there was one, Leslie befriends Jess and they are soon inseparable. While Jess must cede his chance to be the fastest in school, he and Leslie soon find new and exciting ways to spend their time. Realising that they enjoy one another’s company and could care less what others feel, they create a world all their own, where they can rule and lock the rest of humanity out. Terabithia is hereby created and the only means by which to access it is a rope tied to a tree. Jess and Leslie spend all their time there, hiding Terabithia from family and friends alike. When Jess is invited to go into Washington one day, he forgets to invite Leslie. Upon his return, he discovers what a truly horrible thing it was not to have reached out. A stunning piece that resonates with the reader and leaves them thinking, while also searching for a ray of hope. Recommended to those who need a little heartfelt emotion in a quick read, as well as those who enjoy young adult fiction with a deeper meaning.

There are times when you need to turn off your brain and choose something a little lighter to pass the time. I usually turn to young adult fiction for that, though I suppose some of the full-length fiction I read could be said to do that as well. This piece may be the former, but light it is not! Katherine Paterson develops an exceptional protagonist in Jess Aarons, who is loosely modelled after her own son. Jess comes from a poor family and has high hopes for his upcoming school year. The reader learns much about his backstory—the only boy, sandwiched between four sisters—and how he longs to have a companion all his own. Throughout the piece, Paterson offers up some wonderful character development as Jess befriends Leslie and things move forward. Emotions develop and turn to a sobering coming of age by the end of this tale. The number of secondary characters in this piece all serve to keep the story on its toes, while not becoming too burdensome. Paterson does a masterful job with Leslie Burke as well, as the young girl complements the protagonist while also shining in her own right. This is a story that is a mix of happiness, sadness, and revelation, allowing the reader of any age to take something away that they will not soon forget. Told in a mere fourteen chapters, Paterson compacts so much into a short book that the reader will surely extrapolate to carve out additional chapters for themselves. What might have continued happening on Terabithia? How could Jess and Leslie have continued to grow closer? What of the constant pains the Aarons family proved to be for Jess when he wanted solitude? Paterson uses a masterful narrative and dialogue to tell this story that will leave the reader wondering why things had to end as they did, but understanding the deeper message as they cross the bridge into Terabithia.

Kudos, Madam Paterson, for such a wonderful book. I think, given a year or so, my son will be ready for this adventure. I will make sure to introduce him to many of your other works as well!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: