Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson, is a beautifully-told coming-of-age story. It is, rightfully so, an award-winning novel, with likable characters, a simple yet deeply meaningful plot, and a spectacular ending. The book is told through the eyes of the main character, Jess, though not with his voice. Jess is a young boy who is entering 5th Grade. He lives with his 4 sisters and parents on a farm. They are a particularly poor family, where most of the chores fall to him. At school and at home, he is expected to fill a masculine role as a man. His father especially pressures him to have more manly and adult responsibilities, views, and hobbies. Jess has a talent and passion for art, but he is forced to suppress it, as his family views it as feminine. The only thing Jess knows will distinguish him from others is his running. He clings to his love for running as a way to satisfy the standards people have set for him, and a way to fulfill himself.
All that Jess really wants is to be the fastest boy in 5th grade. He has a golden opportunity to take his title, and as the first day of school edges closer, Jess can't wait. The rest of his summer goes by mundanely, with the only interesting bit being Jess’s new neighbors (a rich family with a daughter named Lesley). Recess comes fast on the first day of school, and the racing begins. Heats one, two, and three come and go. However, before heat four, a girl shows up — Jess’s neighbor Lesley. She asks to race, and Jess decides to show sympathy and vouch for her. Gary Fuelcher, the boy in charge of the races, decides to let her race in heat four. The runners line up. The countdown reaches zero and they're off. Jess takes an early lead, but something unimaginable happens, Lesley passes Jess, and wins. The entire 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades are stunned. Jess is speechless and dumbfounded. For the rest of the week, Lesley follows Jess around school, much to Jess's disgust, until eventually, Jess decides to give her a chance, and they become best friends.
One day, they decide to make themselves a kingdom, a magical place where they would be King and Queen. They swing across the creek in the woods behind their fields and create Terabithia. They build a castle stronghold in Terabithia, and discover the sacred oak tree grove, a place of pure magic and true tranquility. Jess and Lesley spend every day at Terabithia: talking, making plans to defeat school bullies, listening to the spirits in the grove, and telling stories.
On one particularly rainy morning, Jess's favorite teacher invites him to Washington D.C. Jess accepts and decides not to invite Lesley. This point in the book is what I would call the start of the climax. The climax of this book has a perfect balance of fulfillment and surprise. It is elegantly written, and although the end of this book is not what I expected, it didn't disorient me. It concluded Jess’s character arc, and accentuated the changes that Lesley caused.
The second reason I recommend this book is the plot, especially Jess’s character arc. It is a classic coming of age tale, told in a beautiful way. The plot is simple and easy to follow at its surface. It follows Jess and Lesleys adventures together, in their kingdom, Terabithia. But if you look deeper into the plot you find the intricate details of Jess's character. Every decision Jess makes is related and motivated. It brings him alive in a special way. Jess's character arc is also creative and well written. Jess begins the book nervous and fearful. It is entertaining and beautiful to watch Lesley change him into a confident and independent person.
The third and final reason I recommend this book is because of the value it holds in literature as a whole. It is no doubt a “classic” and is worth taking just a day to read. It was published in 1977, and won the Newbery Medal the next year in 1978. The novel is widely considered top ten among children's books and is used in English classes across 12 different countries. It has also been in the center of discussion about the limits of children's books, with people questioning its language and even banning or censoring the book.
In the end, Bridge to Terabithia is a novel written with relatability and meaning. It follows likable characters, has entertaining and beautiful character development, a creative plot, and a satisfying ending. By writing such a meaningful and touching book, Katherine Patterson has shown children everywhere that there is a place like Terabithia for everyone, where you are king or queen even if you feel like a misfit.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1977. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!