This Bridge to Terabithia book review can help you determine reading level, content interest, and other factors that influence book selection of this book for middle school children, teens, and young adults.
Bridge to Terabithia Book Review
Author Katherine Paterson's Newbery Award winning Novel, Bridge to Terabithia came out of her teaching experience in rural West Virginia. The children there were much like Jesse Aarons, the boy in Bridge to Terabithia. Most sources list this book as a teen or young adult novel; the accidental death of a child may make the contents difficult for younger children.
Friendship between Outsiders
This story takes place in rural West Virginia just after the Vietnam War. We meet fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who is the only boy and middle child in a family with six children. Even Christmas gifts are small or homemade; Jesse, despite his hard work around the home, always receives less the girls in the family. He has a special talent for drawing, and his art teacher, Miss Elliott, appreciates his talent and helps make school more bearable for him.
As Jesse begins fifth grade, he dreams of being the fastest runner in his class. He has practiced running all summer and thinks he can win the lunchtime races, a win that will give him a special place in the school hierarchy. His hopes are dashed when he persuades the other boys to a let a new girl join their lunchtime race. The girl, Leslie, wins the race. As they become acquainted, they both discover that they are outsiders subject to bullying by the other children in the school.
Leslie has come to West Virginia with writer parents who are seeking a simpler way of life. By Jesse's standards, they are affluent, although they have rejected television and other luxuries. Leslie is unable to watch an assigned program, making her the target of ridicule. Common adversaries among the other students bring Jesse and Leslie together. Jesse finds relief from the harshness of his daily life when he spends time with Leslie; she finds her only new friend in Jesse. As they spend time outdoors, they find a special place across a creek and near the woods. They build a little shelter and declare themselves regents of the Land of Terabithia. A shared fantasy life begins. Jesse, who has nothing material, gives Leslie a puppy for her birthday. The puppy, or Prince Terrien (PT), becomes their constant companion and shares their reign over Terabithia.
Loss and Redemption
During a long period of heavy rain, crossing the creek to get to Terabithia becomes increasingly dangerous. Jesse is fearful, but continues to cross the stream despite his misgivings. He does not want to admit his fears to Leslie. When the creek is at its fullest, Jesse is invited to accompany Miss Elliott to the National Gallery in Washington, and he leaves, telling only May Belle where he is going. As he pulls away from home with Miss Elliott, he briefly regrets that he did not see if Leslie could go also.
When he arrives home, he finds his family waiting for him in fear. Leslie, who has tried to cross the creek alone, has drowned, and his parents believe that he, too, has drowned.
Jesse cannot accept that Leslie is dead, but his father's surprising gentleness and kindness help him through the initial days of his loss. Leslie's parents decide to move away from the place of their loss; Jesse and his father help them pack and leave. They offer Jesse anything he wants from their house, and he asks for some leftover lumber. He uses the wood to build a solid bridge to Terabithia. When he is done, he initiates May Belle into the Kingdom of Terabithia and tells her that someday she may want to do the same for their littlest sister.
In this Bridge to Terabithia book review, we revisit the lasting elements of the book: the healing power of intense childhood friendship, the pain of loss, and the endurance of parental love even under the most difficult circumstances. Leslie and Jesse's friendship makes harsh teachers and school bullies tolerable. Jesse's parents drop their usual harsh behavior to support him through his loss of Leslie. His difficult and unsympathetic teacher becomes a human being when she tells him how she felt when her husband died and that she recognizes it must be even harder for him. Finally, Jesse loves his little sister sufficiently to share the gift of Terabithia with her.