"Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson

“Bridge to Terabithia” is the story of Jess, a ten-year-old boy who feels that he doesn’t quite fit in, both at home and at school. This is why he spends the whole summer waking up at dawn to practice running before his mother and his sisters are up. He thinks that if he manages to become the fastest runner in fifth grade, he will cease to be “that weird kid who draws” and will find his place at last. However, on the first day of school he has a surprise – Leslie, the new girl in school and his new neighbour, manages to outrun every single one of the boys. At first Jess resents her for this, but soon the two become close friends, and create a magic world just for themselves – Terabithia, a place in which they are King and Queen.

I imagine that most readers are surprised by how this story unfolds, but unfortunately I knew exactly where it was going from the start. A few months back, when the movie was released, I read an article about it, and the writer felt the need to give away the ending in the very first paragraph (with no spoilers warning, of course). So I wasn’t surprised, but fortunately that didn’t ruin the story for me, and it didn’t mean there weren’t other little surprises along the way. I was surprised, for example, by the story’s voice, which reminded me a little of Southern literature. I liked how Jess’s thoughts were conveyed in a believable manner, without the tone of a ten-year-old ever being exaggerated. It made the book seem very earnest, and that was one of my favourite things about it.

Another thing I already knew (unlike those who were unfortunately misled by the fact that the movie was marketed as being another Narnia) was that this is not a fantasy story. The story makes it clear all along that the Kingdom of Terabithia only exists in Jess and Leslie’s imaginations, and the time they spend visiting it is actually time spent playing together in the woods. That, however, doesn’t make it any less special, or any less magical.

What this story is about is the power of friendship, the power that a single person, crossing paths with you at the right time, can have to change your life. I think that’s something most of us have experienced at one point or another: meeting someone who in one way or another shows us a whole new world, and helps us find out who we really are.

Another thing I loved is how Leslie introduces Jess to the pleasure of reading. There are references to Narnia, and also to Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain: He was reading one of Leslie’s books, and the adventures of an assistant pig keeper were far more important to him than Brenda’s sauce. I’m a fan of Taran’s adventures myself, so this sentence put a big smile on my face.

The ending, of course, left me teary-eyed. I liked how the very last chapter was hopeful, and how Jess grew closer to his little sister May Belle.

I didn’t watch the movie adaptation when it was showing in theatres because I wanted to read the book first. Now that I have, it is no longer showing, and the DVD is not available yet. It’s going to be released next month, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to post my thoughts on it with the book still fresh in my mind.


    This is one of my favorite books to teach with fourth and fifth graders. I'll be interested in your view of the movie.