1978: Bridge to Terabithia (when fantasy and reality collide)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4/5

Katherine Paterson’s novel, Bridge to Terabithia, is a character driven story that is light on plot but heavy on emotion. It tells the simple story of the beginnings of an unlikely friendship that is tragically cut too short when disaster strikes.

Normally, classic coming of age stories are not my thing. They tend to move at a slow pace and pile on the angst to extreme levels. But Jess’s clear and candid voice kept the story true to life as his relationships and reactions to the events around him are seemingly genuine. His new friendship with Leslie, a tomboyish girl who runs to the beat of her own drum, gives Jess’s life new meaning as both outsiders find a kindred spirit in one another.

In their loneliness, they create their own magical land where anything can happen. As King and Queen of Terabithia, they don’t have to play by life’s rules and deal with their small town issues of bullying and family drama. As a reader, it’s easy to step into their shoes and feel their excitement for their own make-believe world. Jess, himself, is a creative and artistic person and it’s lovely to see how he becomes more confident of his skills under the influence of a fellow creative mind. Unfortunately, their fun is cut short when the harshness of reality sets in.

The ending definitely leaves a bit of a punch. While the death at the end of the story is tear-jerking, the book still ends on an upbeat note – with the narrator having become a stronger person as a result of the events that had transpired. The book does not wallow in the grief that is felt by the main characters, but instead taps into the idea that hope is eternal and life will go on.

When I initially read this book as a fifth grader, I didn’t particularly care for it because the angst felt a bit over the top and too dramatic. Rereading this book as an adult, it’s easier to appreciate the simplicity of Jess and Leslie’s adventures. This story examines the powerful idea of imagination and how two people can easily bond over their overactive thinking and dreams. Overall, Bridge to Terabithia does a great job at capturing just how messy, exuberant and heartbreaking life can be.

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