April 11, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

When I read Jacob Have I Loved last year, I was disappointed in it not only because the book itself didn't thrill me, but because it couldn't come close to comparing with Bridge to Terabithia.

I'd read Bridge to Terabithia in the summer of 2005. I remember coming home from church and my roommate and I each lay down on a couch in the living room. She quickly fell asleep and I finished Bridge to Terabithia. I'd never read it before and I only vaguely knew what was going to happen from snippets I'd heard over the years. I sobbed through the last twenty pages, trying to be quiet so as not to awaken my snoozing roommate.

I'm not a big crier. And I even more rarely cry over books or movies. But, oh, this book did me in. The writing is so simple, so unadorned and then the ending hits you like a ton of bricks. It's just so powerful.

Our last test in my Children's Lit class is in a few weeks and so I've been reading the four assigned books for the exam (Bridge to Terabithia, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, and Beowulf: A New Telling).

I wondered if I'd enjoy Bridge to Terabithia again, but was quickly sucked into the story. Today, I lay on the couch and I knew what was coming. I wondered if I'd be as affected by the ending this time, since I knew what to expect.

It didn't hit me as quickly as it did last time, but I wept through the last ten pages. I can hardly type this without bursting back into tears.

The story follows Jess Aarons', a fifth grade boy who loves to draw and anticipates being the fastest runner in the fifth grade when school gets back in. He's been practicing all summer in the cow pasture and he's pretty sure he can beat every kid there.

Leslie Burke moves in to the rundown house next door with her parents and, on the first day back at school, she runs in the races (she's the only girl) and beat all the boys. By a lot. Jess is embarrassed by the whole thing and angry at Leslie for ruining the one thing he liked about school.

But, he chooses to befriend her (everyone else is pretty awful to her - she looks kind of like a boy and her parent don't even own a TV, despite being quite wealthy). "He felt there in the teachers; room that it was the beginning of a new season in his life, and he chose deliberately to make it so."

And it is a new beginning for him. His family is poor and there is a great deal of tension in his household. His older sisters both badger their parents for money and are extremely inconsiderate. His younger sisters tag along after Jess, much to his annoyance. Jess wants desperately for his father to show him love and pride, but his father scorns his drawing ambitions and more so his choice to hang around with a girl. He has high hopes for his one son, but Jess doesn't fit into his mold very well at all.

One of the brilliant things about this book, which I didn't notice the first time around, are the depictions of Jess' family. The author gives little flashes of description about the family members when its warranted, but they fade beautifully into the background. They serve only the purpose of illustrating how Jess' life operates and how he views the world around him. They aren't flat characters, they are simply unimportant. You can see that Jess' parents are extremely worried about money, but it's never explicitly said and you don't get the sense that Jess is very involved in that worry. He has other things on his mind. The focus of the story is Jess and Leslie, not his family.

Anyway, Jess and Leslie become quick friends and Leslie takes him to explore the woods behind her house. There, they find a rope hanging over the creek and they swing across to a private wooded area that Leslie declares is the magical kingdom of Terabithia, where she and Jess will rule as king and queen.

Leslie takes the whole thing quite seriously and Jess comes to love going there with her. She tells him stories that her parents have read her or that she has read from her expansive library - Moby Dick, Hamlet, The Chronicles of Narnia - and Jess soaks up this new life, full of imagination and friendship. Jess has been full of fear for most of his life, but even that starts to ebb away under Leslie's tutelage.

At the end of the book, there are a few lines that sum up the story - the change in Jess - so well, that I'll share them here.

"It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. He had thought that was it. Wasn't king the best you could be? Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you had stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn't Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world - huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile?

Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn't there, so he must go for both of them. It was up to him pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength."

I won't tell you how it ends, although you can probably guess, but even if you do know, it doesn't diminish the power of the book at all.

If you haven't read this book, you ought to. It is incredibly deserving of the Newbery medal it won in 1978. And if you don't shed at least one tear over this book, I feel completely justified in saying you have no heart.

14 comments:

  1. Perhaps I should read this book, I didn't care for the movie...I didn't think it lived up to the advertisements. I'll put it on my list!

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  2. I read that book over and over growing up and bawled every time. I'm too afraid to pick it up again because I think, if it's possible, I might have become even MORE emotional as I've gotten older. It's kind of embarrassing.

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  3. I haven't read this once since, let's see, I think it was 6th grade? I remember so little of it that I might as well have not read it, but I do remember liking it. I should definitely pick it up again, thanks.

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  4. This is one of my top-ever reads. Loved it. I even wrote my Writing Fellows paper on it (well, death in children's literature). Makes me want to pick it up again.

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  5. I guess I'll have to read this; although something sounds very familiar with the plot. Maybe I skimmed it before grading book reports and/or my daughter read it.

    Anyway, as to Jacob... I liked the movie. (I don't know how closely it follows the book, because I haven't read it.) As you said about the book, children wouldn't understand the movie, either.

    Do you remember that Louise and Caroline's last name is Bradshaw?

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  6. I saw the movie and didn't really care for it either, but I guess I didn't really get it. I think the movie left out too many details probably. Now, reading your description, the movie makes more sense. Sounds like a better read than it was a film.

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  7. Hi, I just stumbled into your blog via finslippy and I have to say I read Jacob Have I Loved and was none too impressed either...maybe I'll try Bridge...

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  8. I agree. I thought Bridge to Terabithia was a great book, and though I don't remember clearly, I'm sure I wept through the last pages. It would be hard not to. Good luck with your final and all the other exciting things coming up.

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  9. confession: i never really liked bridge to terabithia. jacob have i loved, on the other hand, has always been one of my favorites, and it has always tended to make me try. oh well.

    thoughts on the witch of blackbird pond? one of the best newberries, imo.

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  10. I remember the first time I was reading it was when we lived in VA. I finished it in the back seat of the Van driving to the Stake Center (which looks exactly like the Robindale Chapel) about an hour from our home. I finished it just before we pulled into the parking lot. I just could not stop crying - I cried, and cried - and my mom was extremely concerned - she couldn't figure out what was going on. Then Kim read the book and wanted to know why I was such a baby - I think I got into the story a little more... :)

    One of my top fav. -- I cried in the movie - both times. I thought they actually did a pretty good job. One of the few movies they didn't butcher (Eragon -- huge disappointment...)

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  11. I read this in middle school, but had forgotten most of it until the movie came out. I was on a plane with BYU Singers, coming back from Africa. We were all exhausted and jetlagged, but some of us managed to stay awake for B to T on the ride from DC to Salt Lake. You could tell who had watched the movie when we landed by those who were still wiping tears. And I honestly never cry in movies... wow.

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  12. Janssen, I read this book at least six times in sixth grade. I have since decided I simply must have needed to cry that year, and this is how I got it out (I'm not much of a crier either). I LOVE this book. I love it. It will always be on my top list of favorites because of the deep emotional connection I feel to it. Perhaps I will pick it up and read it again one of these days. I was feeling frustrated yesterday because I wasn't in the middle of anythign that was grabbing me (and I am reading at least three right now). Perhaps this one should be next.

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  13. So... I just bearly got around to ordering your tank that you WON! Yipee for winning things! Anyways, you should get it in about a week or so..and if it doesnt fit or you would rather have something else- feel free to exchange! :)

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  14. I haven't ever actually read the book (much to my husband's amazement--after three years of marriage he's under the impression that I've read everything). I did watch the movie on the plane flight to Singapore last summer and felt ridiculously stupid crying on a plane sitting next to a stranger. It was so sad though... Somehow I was unaware of the full plot line and was very sad by the end. Have you seen the movie? Is the book better? (It usually is. Although I have to say "The Kite Runner" movie followed the book better than any other movie I've seen based upon a book.)

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