Now a major motion picture, discover the beloved Newbery Medal-winning story of Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke. Join Jess and Leslie as they form an unlikely friendship and create the imaginary land of Terabithia. There they rule as king and queen, until a terrible tragedy occurs that helps Jess understand just how much he has learned from Leslie.
I absolutely adore the movie adaptation of ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, however it wasn’t until recently that I thought about reading the book. There is obviously something special about this book; it has been nearly 40 years since it was first published and it still holds a very special place in the hearts of many. Having seen the film going in to the book, I of course knew what happens, and I do wonder if that affected my emotional reaction to it, but still, I found this short book to be an immense emotional rollercoaster, and I can see why this story touches so many people.
*MAJOR SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*
- This book is written beautifully. Although the dialogue feels a bit too American for me to truly connect with (maybe it’s a British thing!), the conversations all feel so genuine, and the prose is an absolute delight.
- There are moments of major foreshadowing, such as when May Belle talks to Leslie about what would happen should Leslie die. Maybe I noticed these more because of my age and because I know the end of the story, but these moments of foreshadowing do not ruin the climax – in fact, they have the opposite effect. They make your heart sink and your emotions go into overdrive and build the tension to a high, and I liked that feeling.
- The friendship between Jess and Leslie just feels perfect. It’s the kind of friendship everyone wishes they had aged ten, and the way that Jess craves aspects of Leslie’s life and Leslie craves aspects of Jess’s is very true to life.
- I could identify so much with both Leslie and especially Jess – I saw aspects of my ten-year-old self in both of them. I recognised Jess’s drive to be the best in a family where he is always overlooked, I saw Leslie’s determination to belong as a tomboy who neither fits with the girls or the boys, and most important of all, I identified with the want to build a fantasy world, an escape from the real one and a place to call home.
- Jess’s reaction to Leslie’s death was so raw. Going through the stages of mourning, through denial and anger to devastation, I could truly feel the emotion coming off the pages. The line that did it for me was ‘Look at me. I’m not crying’. In that moment, I saw so much of my own reaction to grief, and it has been a long time since I read a book that addressed that emotion in such a perfect way, especially a children’s book.
- The ending works perfectly, and was actually the bit that got me closest to tears. The building of the bridge and the idea of passing the fantasy on to May Belle and eventually Joyce Ann felt like the best way to round off the novel.
- I DID NOT CRY. Perhaps it is because I knew that Leslie was going to die, but I somehow do not think that was the reason. I felt the emotion in the build-up, knowing what was to come from the foreshadowing, and I felt devastated for Jesse afterwards, but I did not get an emotional impact from Leslie’s death itself. I cried at the equivalent point in the film, which made me more ready to cry at Jess’s response, but as I did not get emotional reading about Leslie’s death, I somehow found it harder to get upset reading about the aftermath for Jess, which is probably the saddest part of the book. On this front, I think the film handled the emotion of Leslie’s death better than the book did.
- There are moments in which the age of the book comes across, and not in a good way. We get slightly unsavoury reminders of the flaws of ’70s society, such as ‘it’s an unusual hobby for a girl’, the fat-shaming of Janice and Brenda, the clear male-female divide, and the slightly bizarre relationship between Jess and Miss Edmunds. All of these moments are reflective of the time in which the book was written, but nonetheless make for a bit of uncomfortable reading now.
- While Terabithia is such a majestic concept, there were moments where, given that it is all in the children’s heads, reading about their exploits in Terabithia didn’t quite do it for me. Paterson blurs the lines between the tangible and the abstract well, and it all appeals to my childish creativity, but sometimes just reading of Jess and Leslie saying a prayer in a forest becomes more dull and less scope for imagination.
Would I recommend? – Definitely. However old you are, this book brings out the childhood memories and fantasies you may have long forgotten, before playing with your emotions, all to create a great coming-of-age story. Watch the 2007 film while you’re at it.