Allison's Book Bag

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Posted on: May 1, 2011

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson starts out with Jess Aarons practicing for school recess races, but ends up being mostly about friendship. Everything else is gravy. And, to throw in another food metaphor, like a hearty stew there is a whole lot of everything else. Katherine Paterson has included most everything I’d expect to find in a book for young people.

There are friends. Winning that first race after the start of school is the biggest thing Jess thinks about; not the new neighbors at the Perkins place. Even when one of those neighbors turns out to be his age, he remains uninterested. After all, the neighbor is a girl. Leslie also unfortunately isn’t the right size for his younger sister May Belle. Moreover, she turns out to be a competitor. She joins the recess races, something that the boys dislike but don’t know how to stop. For a while, Jess even outright avoids Leslie because, thanks to her, one of the few highlights of school is no longer any fun. Then one day he sees Leslie being teased, his protective instinct kicks in, and his entire world changes. At this point in the book, the story becomes about their friendship.

There are bullies. Gary Fulcher doesn’t show any respect for other people’s property. In his free time at school, Jess likes to grab notebook paper and draw. Gary makes it his business to try to see these sketches, the way certain boys in my sixth-grade class made it their mission to steal notes from their peers. Notice I pluralized bully. Gary is an ant compared to Janice Avery and her two friends. In typical bully fashion, they make little kids give them their food. They also snatch hopscotch rocks, run through jump ropes, and laugh when kids screamed. While no one ever stole my food in elementary school, I did avoid walking home alone in fifth grade for fear of being beaten up. It doesn’t take too many experiences to learn that there are bullies in the world. Unlike Jess, I never tried standing up to mine until I had become an adult.

There are sisters. By having four, Jess has too many of them. The older two remain cliché teenagers for whom whining, shopping, dating, and bossing their younger siblings are the norm. The younger May Belle and Joyce Ann, however, inspire some of the sweeter moments in Bridge to Terabithia. On the very first morning that we meet Jess, May Bell wakes up and asks him: “Where are you going?” In response, Jess “patted her hair and yanked a twisted sheet up to her small chin.” One might wonder why Paterson bestows Jess with four sisters, when the heart of the book is his friendship with Leslie. Part of the beautiful complexity of Bridge to Terabithia is its multiple layers, including the relationship between Jess and May Bell, which eventually helps Jess nudge May Bell towards a friendship with her younger sister.

There are also parents, teachers, animals, holidays, imaginary worlds, and even a discussion of faith. Those were all an important part of my world too; like Jess, I had a crush on a teacher, made up stories with my friends, and wondered about God. Every character, detail, and incident in Bridge to Terabithia is so true to life, many readers will identify.

Have I given any too much of the plot? No, for there is the still the question of how Jess stands up to the bullies. You might wonder too about whether he ever does anything about his crush on his teacher. Then there is that pretend world that Leslie and Jess create, after which the book is named. Most important, there is how their friendship unfolds. I have deliberately left out those details, for you should encounter them for yourself by reading Bridge to Terabithia. If you haven’t read the Paterson’s book yet, there is so much to discover and love. If you have, then you know it is like looking back through a treasured vacation album.

In slightly over one hundred pages, Katherine Paterson has created a patchwork quilt wherein each square reveals a little more about family, school, friends, religion, and all those important areas of life. We might sometimes experience them differently than Jess, but they were part of our childhood and have become part of our adulthood. Bridge to Terabithia has everything that I might expect to find in a book for young people, but it also has everything that adults can relate to. It’s the perfect book.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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6 Responses to "Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson"

+JMJ+

I don’t really rate books, but I liked this one a lot when I read it. What I loved most was how retro it was. I grew up in the 80s but had an aunt who loved giving me children’s books and tapes that came out in the 70s. When I reread Bridge to Terabithia last year, it seemed to recapture the same tension between my innocent childhood and stories and songs from a time that was no longer my own, but when I might have liked to live. (It was likely also a reflection of Jess and Leslie’s imaginary world, so it probably helped me resonate with the story more.)

Since that’s kind of an odd reason to like a book (and notice that I didn’t say anything about the actual quality of the writing), Bridge to Terabithia isn’t something I really recommend to others. My own favourite Katherine Paterson novels are Lyddie and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

Yes, The Great Gilly Hopkins is another of my favorite Katherine Paterson books. Have you read Master Puppeteer? It’s the one by her I always keep hearing recommended, but have unfortunately have yet to read.

On your book section of your blog Shredded Cheese, I noticed you have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies under your book-theme meme. Have you read the trilogy yet? It’s next on my reading list.

+JMJ+

I’m afraid the three titles I’ve mentioned are the only Paterson novels I’ve read. The one I want to try next is Jacob Have I Loved. (When I remember the age I first started considering it, I’m a little stunned that I was able to put it off for so long!)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was okay for me, but nothing spectacular. I have a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters waiting to be read . . . but I’d like to reread the original novel first, because the last time I read through it was over a decade ago! I’m not sure whether I’ll keep going and read Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons (which I *think* the third book is called); it depends on how much I enjoy the second book.

By the way, please feel free to join my Locus Focus meme any time you like! =) This month, I’m focussing on settings in movies, but I’ll be hopping back to settings in books in June. =)

You have a follower. 🙂

A great review of a great book! Readers, both young and old, should be prepared to shed a tears over the unexpected tragedy that occurs near the end of the book, but I’m sure that they’ll be smiling again when they finish reading it. Our family will be reading the book in our family reading in June. I’m finding Scholastic’s reading guide on it helpful in preparing for our discussion of the book.

I look forward to hearing what others in our family think! By the way, Katherine Paterson was inspired by a real-life tragedy when she wrote this book.

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