Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.
That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits
The first time I read Bridge to Terabithia I was eleven. Eleven and alone a lot of the time. I remember wishing for a friend like Jesse, and for looking for that magical place where I could build my own castle and kingdom. I read the book three times that summer, before I had to return it to my aunt. I also remember my horror the first time through when Leslie died. I could not believe that a girl my age would be allowed to die in a book. Killed off so to speak. By the third reading I kind of decided I was like Leslie. Misunderstood and different, and I was hoping I wouldn't die. From that point on I devoured every book I could get my hands on, and started to write fanciful short stories of my own. (Even though at that time I envisioned myself more a poet.)
Various times through the years I have thought of the book, but had not read it since that summer. It would always pop to mind when I would be walking my dog on the back roads of my town and see all the yards that lead down to small streams and rivers. I would think that it was a very "Terabithia" like scene. So when I signed on for Emlyn's reading challenge I knew this book had to be on my list. I had to read it again. I downloaded it to my Kindle that night.
I think I got more out of it as an adult. The world that Leslie lived in was different from mine as a child, but we both had absent parents. I could also relate with Jesse and the struggle of his working poor parents. I too had been there. But most of all I saw the nuances of their relationship. How they both benefited. And how the magical, pretend world of Terabethia served to open up Jesse's mind to all the wonderful things he had been missing. Leslie's stories and fanciful play served to educate Jesse more than his backwoods school had. And his life was all the better for it.
I also noticed the connection to religion and values. The scene in the back of Jesse's father's truck when they go to church for Easter, a first for Leslie, when Jesse and his little sister discover Leslie has never read the bible. A discussion breaks out of how people who have not read the bible are damned to hell. A discussion that seems to break through Leslie's self assured shell.
"She smiled. "OK", she said. But I still don't think God goes around damming people to hell" They smiled at each other trying to ignore May Belle's anxious little voice. "But Leslie", she insisted, "What if you die? What's going to happen to you if you die?"
A question we all are searching to answer. And a scene serving to foreshadow Leslie's tragic end.
This fanciful book filled with a young boy and girl playing king and queen serves to be a book about growing up. About conquering the status we were born into. About forgiveness, kindness, and turning the other cheek. I was a little sad when I realized my oldest son had never heard of it. He is the age I was the first time I read it. Walking the dog one evening last week I pointed out the brook in the woods cutting through the rail trail and mentioned it would be a perfect place to build a "Terabithia". He said a what? I told him the story in the book and asked him if he would like to read it. He shrugged his shoulders a little and kicked at a stone. "You know mom I don't like to read much. But is there a movie version?" I chuckled, and found it a little ironic that a son of mine doesn't like to read. "No," I replied. "But I think you should read it." "Could you just tell me the story instead?" He said. I guess that's a start.
"Father, into thy hands I command her spirit." He knew Leslie would have liked those words. They had the ring of the sacred grove in them. (page 120)