All children can relate in someway to Katherine Patersons Newberry Medal-winning childrens novel, Bridge to Terabithia. The characters are realistic people who could be ones next door neighbors. From the shy and demure Jess to the vivacious and carefree Leslie, every kid can relate to one of the characters in this novel. The themes in this novel vary as much as the characters. Bridge to Terabithia is a good coming-of-age book that captures our imaginations and our hearts.
Bridge to Terabithia is a story about a lonely boy, Jess Aarons, who grows up in a house where he is the only boy surrounded by four sisters and his mother. His father is there but always gone either working or looking for work. His greatest hope is to become the fastest runner in the fifth grade. All summer long he practices running but on the first day of school, he gets beat by the new girl, Leslie Burke. At first, she repels him. However, they soon become inseparable.
Leslie and Jess are complete opposites. Jess is scared of a lot but Leslie is fearless. Leslie has imagination and inspiration and Jess envies that. Leslies family has money and gets along. Jess family is always scraping by and nearly dysfunctional. But nonetheless, they become best friends. In the woods, they create Terabithia, their own secret kingdom where they rule together. Leslie and Terabithia change Jess. He becomes a stronger person, less afraid of the world. But one cruel morning, tragedy strikes and Leslie dies. Jess must come to grips with her death and the world. Except now he has to do it alone.
Symbolism is a literary element that stands out most in this novel. Patterson uses symbolism so well in this story. The title itself symbolizes Leslie. In chapter seven, Jess thoughts bring this symbol to light.
Jess tried going to Terabithia alone, but it was no good. It needed Leslie to make the magic. He was afraid he would destroy everything by trying to force the magic on his own, when it was plain that the magic was reluctant to come for him.(65)
We see this a second time in chapter eleven. The only way to enter Terabithia was to swing from the hanging rope, which was their bridge. Leslie died because the rope broke, causing her to fall and hit her head before landing in the stream, causing her to drown. The broken rope symbolizes the end of Leslie, hence the end of Jess Terabithia. The hanging rope was the only way to enter Terabithia but for Jess, the only reason Terabithia was magical was Leslie. His entrance to Terabithia is gone. For Jess, Terabithia symbolizes everything good in his life. It is an escape from his dismal homelife and an escape from his chores, and escape from the kids at school. Terabithia is also the only place where Jess is unafraid and brave.
For Jess, Terabithia became a place where all of his fears in reality are defeated in fantasy. Janice Avery, one of the major antagonists in the story, is converted from a schoolyard bully to an imaginary giant in Terabithia. Chapter 5 opens by saying Leslie liked to make up stories about the giants that threatened the peace of Terabithia, but they both knew that the real giant in their lives was Janice Avery. (48)
The plot of the story is episodic. Each chapter contains its own dilemma. The plots range from chapter to chapter. In chapter two, Leslie is the antagonist who defeats Jess in the race, but in chapter five, Leslie is the protagonist, along with Jess, defeating the giants who are threatening Terabithia. Although Jess view of Leslie change, she remains a round, but static character. Her personality throughout the story remains essentially the same, but it is Jess who changes and is the dynamic character.
Patterson also makes great use of foreshadowing, most notably in chapter eight. Jess, Leslie, May Belle, and Joyce Ann are sitting in the back of the pickup truck waiting for the rest of the Owens to leave the church when Leslie proclaims that she does not completely believe in the Bible. An alarmed May Belle asks But Leslie. What if you die? Whats going to happen to you if you die?(85) We also see foreshadowing from Leslie herself in chapter nine. During a heavy rain spell, Jess and Leslie go to Terabithia and Leslie says Methinks some evil being has put a curse on our beloved kingdomFor of a truth I perceive that this is no ordinary rain that is falling upon our kingdom. (90-91) Little do they know that this is no ordinary rain indeed for this is the last time Jess and Leslie ever go to Terabithia together again.
The themes of this story range from coping with death to overcoming obstacles and fears. Death in itself is obviously an obstacle and Leslies death is the hardest obstacle Jess has ever had to overcome. But in dealing with Leslies death, Jess realizes how much strength and courage he has gained from Leslie had given him. Leslie and Terabithia were essential for Jess to evolve into the character he is at the end of the story. They were essential for him to overcome his fears of water and the schoolyard bullies, and he realizes that he doesnt need Leslie to protect him anymore and he does not need to take refuge in Terabithia because he can face his obstacles.
He thought about it all day, how before Leslie came, he had been a nothing-a stupidIt was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed awhile and grew strong you had to move on. (126)
In the end, Jess builds a bridge to Terabithia and takes May Belle there and he becomes to May Belle who Leslie was for him. Jess does not need Leslie to enter Terabithia because although Leslie is gone, Terabithia will remain and live on with May Belle. There are a lot of children out there like Jess who are alone and scared and they just need to find their own Terabithia to give them courage to face the antagonists of their world. That is why Bridge to Terabithia is an excellent book for young readers. It gives them hope that they can face their world too.