Title: Bridge to Terabithia.
Author: Katherine Paterson.
Genre: Fiction, literature, children's lit, YA.
Publication Date: 1977.
Summary: Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new kid, a new girl, boldly crosses over to the boys' side of the playground and outruns everyone. That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. It doesn't matter to Jess that Leslie dresses funny, or that her family has a lot of money—but no TV. Leslie has imagination. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Then one morning a terrible tragedy occurs. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy does he finally understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Jess drew the way some people drink whiskey. The peace would start at the top of his muddled brain and seep down through his tired and tensed-up body. Lord, he loved to draw.
♥ She just took off running to the old Perkins place. He couldn't help turning to watch. She ran as though it was her nature. It reminded him of the flight of wild ducks in the autumn. So smooth. The word "beautiful" came to his mind, but he shook it away and hurried up toward the house.
♥ People began to join it, quietly at first to match her mood, but as the song built up at the end, their voices did as well, so that by the time they got to the final "Free to be you and me," the whole school could hear them. Caught in the pure delight of it, Jess turned and his eyes met Leslie's. He smiled at her. What the heck? There wasn't any reason he couldn't. What was he scared of anyhow? Lord. Sometimes he acted like the original yellow-bellied sapsucker. He nodded and smiled again. She smiled back. He felt there in the teachers' room that it was the beginning if a new season in his life, and he chose deliberately to make it so.
He did not have to make any announcement to Leslie that he had changed his mind about her. She already knew it.
♥ "You should draw a picture of Terabithia for us to hang in the castle," Leslie said.
"I can't." How could he explain it in a way of Leslie would understand, how he yearned to reach out and capture the quivering life about him and how when he tried, it slipped past his fingertips, leaving a dry gossip upon the page? "I just can't get the poetry of the trees," he said.
She nodded. "Don't worry," she said. "You will someday."
He believed her because there in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess's own fears and inefficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them.
♥ Jess didn't concern himself with what would "become of it." For the first time in his life he got up every morning with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self—his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.
♥ Leslie's favorite place besides the castle stronghold was the pine forest. There the trees grew so thick at the top that the sunshine was veiled. No low bush or grass could grow in that dim light, so the ground was carpeted with golden needles.
"I used to think this place was haunted," Jess had confessed to Leslie the first afternoon he had screwed up his courage to bring her there.
"Oh, but it is," she said. "But you don't have to be scared. It's not haunted with evil things."
"How do you know?"
"You can just feel it. Listen."
At first he heard only the stillness. It was the stillness that had always frightened him before, but this time it was like the moment after Miss Edmunds finished a song, just after the chords hummed down to silence. Leslie was right. They stood there, not moving, not wanting the swish of dry needles beneath their feet to break the spell. Far away from their former world cam the cry of geese heading southward.
Leslie took a deep breath. "This is not an ordinary place," she whispered. "Even the rulers of Terabithia come into it only at times of greatest sorrow or of the greatest joy. We must strive to keep it sacred. It would not so to disturb the Spirits."
♥ Leslie was laughing so hard she had trouble getting the words out. "You—you're crazy. How will we reach him to be a noble guardian? You're turning him into a clown."
"R-r-r-oof," wailed Prince Terrien, rolling his eyes skyward. Jess and Leslie both collapsed. They were in pain from laughter.
"Maybe," said Leslie at last. "We'd better make him court jester."
"What about his name?"
"Oh, we'll let him keep his name. Even a prince—" this in her most Terabithian voice— "even a prince may be a fool."
♥ 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 to him.
♥ Leslie gave a deep satisfied sigh. "I love this room," she said. "Don't you feel the golden enchantment of it? It is worthy to be"—Jess looked up in sudden alarm—"in a palace." Relief. In such a mood, a person might even let a sworn secret slip. But she hadn't, not even to Bill and Judy, and he knew how she felt about her parents. She must have seen his anxiety because she winked at him across Bill and Judy just as he sometimes winked at May Bell over Joyce Ann's head. Terabithia was still just for the two of them.
♥ The next afternoon they called P.T. and headed for Terabithia. It had been more than a month since they had been there together, and as they neared the creek bed, they slowed down. Jess wasn't sure he still remembered how to be a king.
♥ "Are you sure she was crying?"
"Jess Aarons, I can tell if somebody's crying or not."
Lord, what was the matter with him? Janice Avery had given him nothing but trouble, and now he was feeling responsible for her—like one of the Burkes' timber wolves or beached whales. "She didn't even cry when kids teased her 'bout Willard after the note."
"Yeah. I know."
He looked at her. "Well," he said. "What should we do?"
"Do?" she asked. "What do you mean what should we do?"
How could he explain it to her? "Leslie. If she was an animal predator, we'd be obliged to try to help her."
Leslie gave him a funny look.
"Well, you're the one who's always telling me I gotta care," he said.
♥ There was a rule at Lark Creek, more important than anything Mr. Turner made up and fussed about. That was the rule that you never mixed up troubles at home with life at school. When parents were poor or ignorant or mean, or even just didn't believe in having a TV set, it was up to their kids to protect them. By tomorrow every kid and teacher in Lark Creek Elementary would be talking in half snickers about Janice Avery's daddy. It didn't matter if their own fathers were in the state hospital or the federal prison, they hadn't betrayed theirs, like Janice had.
♥ There in their secret place, his feelings bubbled inside him like a stew on the back of the stove—some sad for her in her lonesomeness, but chunks of happiness, too. To be able to be Leslie's one whole friend in the world as she was his—he couldn't help being satisfied about that.
♥ He made her swear on the Bible never to tell and never to follow but still he lay awake a long time. How could he trust everything that mattered to him to a sassy six-year-old? Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.
♥ Church always seemed the same. Jess could tune it out the same way he tuned out school, with his body standing up and sitting down in unison with the rest of the congregation but his mind numb and floating, not really thinking or dreaming but at least free.
♥ "That whole Jesus thing is really interesting, isn't it?"
"What d'you mean?"
"All those people wanting to kill him when he hadn't done anything to hurt them." She hesitated. "It's really kind of a beautiful story—like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates—or Aslan."
"It ain't beautiful," May Belle broke in. "It's scary. Nailing holes right through somebody's hand."
"May Belle's right." Jess reached down into the deepest pit of his mind. "It's because we're all vile sinners God made Jesus die."
"Do you think that's true?"
He was shocked. "It's in the Bible, Leslie."
She looked at him as if she were going to argue, then seemed to change her mind. "It's crazy, isn't it?" She shook her head. "You have to believe it, but you hate it. I don't have to believe it, and I think it's beautiful." She shook her head again. "It's crazy."
♥ It had seemed to Jess when he went to bed Wednesday night that he could relax, that everything was going to be all right, but he awoke in the middle of the night with the horrible realization that it was still raining. He would just have to tell Leslie that he wouldn't go to Terabithia. After all, she had told him that when she was working on the house with Bill. And he hadn't questioned her. It wasn't so much that he minded telling Leslie that he was afraid to go; it was that he minded being afraid. It was as though he had been made with a great piece missing—one of May Belle's puzzles with this huge gap where somebody's eye and cheek and jaw should have been. Lord, it would be better to be born without an arm than to go through life with no guts. He hardly slept the rest of the night, listening to the horrid rain and knowing that no matter how high the creek came, Leslie would still want to cross it.
♥ He pressed his forehead against Miss Bessie's warm hide. He wondered idly if cows were ever scared—really scared. He had seen Miss Bessie jitter away from P.T., but that was different. A yapping puppy at your heels is an immediate threat, but the difference between him and Miss Bessie was that when there was no P.T. in sight she was perfectly content, sleepily chewing her cud. She wasn't staring down at the old Perkins place, wondering and worrying. She wasn't standing there on her tippytoes while anxiety ate holes through all her stomachs.
♥ Some dream must have awakened him, but he could not remember it. He could only remember the mood of dread it had brought with it. Through the curtainless window he could see the lopsided moon with hundreds of stars dancing in bright attendance.
It came into his mind that someone had told him that Leslie was dead. But he knew now that that had been part of the dreadful dream. Leslie could not die any more than he himself could die.
♥ He, Jess, was the only one who really cared for Leslie. But Leslie had failed him. She went and died just when he needed her the most. She went and left him. She went swinging on that rope just to show him that she was no coward. So there, Jess Aarons. She was probably somewhere right now laughing at him. Making fun of him like he was Mrs. Myers. She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded—like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.
♥ The solemn procession wound its way through the sacred grove homeward to the castle. Like a single bird across a storm-cloud sky, a tiny peace winged its way through the chaos inside his body.
♥ "P.T. ain't scared, and he even saw Leslie..."
"It ain't the same for dogs. It's like the smarter you are, the more things can scare you."
♥ He couldn't think of anything else to say. Maybe some day when he was grown, he would writer her a letter and tell her that Leslie Burke had thought she was a great teacher or something. Leslie wouldn't mind. Sometimes like the Barbie doll you need to give people something that's for them, not just something that makes you feel good giving it.
♥ He thought about it all day, how before Leslie came, he had been a nothing—a stupid, weird little kid who drew funny pictures and chased around a cow field trying to act big—trying to hide a whole mob of foolish little fears running riot inside his gut.
It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and tuned 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 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 the shining world—huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile? (Handle with care—everything—even the predators.)
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 to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.
As for the terrors ahead—for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him—well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white. Right, Leslie?