I'm not going to lie, I went into this book with semi-low expectations. I was a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia growing up, and I always thought this book stole its thunder. That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised and this book definitely rose above expectations.
Bridge to Terabithia is set in a very rural town on the East coast. The reader is immediately introduced to Jess Aarons, a 5th grade boy who deeply desires to be the fastest kid in all of the 5th grade. He trains over the summer and qualifies as the 2nd fastest runner in the grade right after Leslie Perkins, the new girl from the city. Being beat by a city girl...talk about killing a man's ego. Jess is immediately turned off by this new girl and tries to avoid her except for the unfortunate fact that her family has moved into the old farmhouse next door to his house. Jess and Leslie slowly begin a friendship because they realize they have one thing in common - the hatred of the mean-spirited seventh grader, Janice Avery.
And so begins the magical story of their friendship. Jess and Leslie create a unique friendship that is simple and joyful. Believe me, I was hoping for some sort of 5th grade love drama (I've seen a lot of it as a 5th grade teacher) but this fictional relationship is the purest friendship. Jess and Leslie are only concerned with their magical land they named Terabithia. Terabithia is their version of Narnia. The author, Katherine Paterson, even compares Terabithia to Narnia by describing it as their magical get-a-way. At this point, I still had some reservations about the book. I kept wondering how this book came to be so popular when it was incredibly similar to Chronicles of Narnia. Paterson crafts this novel into her own unique bestseller by focusing on the friendship of the characters rather than the fantasy realm like Narnia. It is very apparent that the theme of this book is friendship since so much dialogue is centered around Jess and Leslie's normal everyday conversations. The characters are able to create such a strong friendship because they are constantly exploring each others different lifestyles and personalities and expanding their own. Paterson uses Terabithia as a main symbol for childhood. There are several small details about Terabithia, but it is definitely not the focus. There isn't even a single battle or dilemna when they are in Terabithia. The movie industry definitely blows this out of proportion.
The rest of the novel tracks their friendship until one day when a fatal accident occurs. Leslie Burke falls to her death while attempting to swing across to Terabithia by herself. Katherine Paterson captures a moment in a friendship that most people won't even begin to fathom - death. Naturally, Jess is distraught, resentful, and incredibly sad over the loss of his friend. As the readers, we are able to explore the magical impact of true friendships as Jess learns to cope with his loss and comes out a stronger individual.
Two thumbs up in my opinion.