By Katherine Paterson
Warning: This ramble will include spoilers.
I am participating in a the 26 book 2017 reading challenge I found on a post circulating Facebook, it originates from Hannah Braime’s website though. The Bridge to Terabithia is the novel I selected as “a book from your childhood.” I am glad I did!
My mom recommended this book to me when I was a kid. The first time I read it I was probably around 10 years old, give or take a year or two. It was one of the first chapter books that really impacted me. I still remember the feeling of sadness and happiness waft over me together like a wave. Looking back, and after listening to the audiobook as a woman in my mid-twenties, I realize that was the first time I really understood God and Death.
Jesse is an artist and Leslie is a tomboy with a knack for writing (clearly inherited from her parents). To kick things off, I feel an instant connection with these characters as I love art and writing. Jess is stuck in a rut, feels unappreciated, and wants a friend to cherish. He finds that with Leslie. Friends are the best thing for a person to have. The number of friends is irrelevant, as Leslie firmly declares she has one and a half friends, but we all need at least one other human being to share our lives with. “No man is an island…” (John Donne).
Imagination is at the center of the novel. Terabithia is a made-up land ruled by a king and queen, Jesse and Leslie. They fight trolls and wander through their kingdom that is all their own. Nothing can touch them there. They can conquer all their troubles through play. By acting out their insecurities and problems they are able to better deal with real life situations, such as Leslie facing and later sort of befriending the school bully, Janice, after she was betrayed by those she considered friends.
A few chapters before Leslie’s death, the author has the Aaronses go to their yearly church service, Easter. Leslie asks to go because she had never been and she is all about experiencing new adventures. When it was over she said it was fascinating. Jess laughed and exclaimed how boring it was. Then, Leslie responds with, “You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.” Leslie is able to find the beauty in it because it is something she went to on her own volition. She wants to experience life as it is presently and church just happens to be another stop along her short journey. When I heard that quote again, I remembered reading it as a child on my bed with my back resting against the wall. From an early age, it affected what I believed about Christianity, God, and Salvation. I learned God is beautiful and He is always present with us. No matter what happens in life, God will continue to walk along side us. Did the little girl die in the novel still? Yes. Was she too young? I’d say yes. Why would that happen? Because Leslie made a choice to swing over the river in the rain. We all have choices and consequences, good or bad, for our decisions. In this case, the consequence was death. I cry and cry every time I read it, but you know what came out of this story? New life. The imagination was not stifled. Instead, a bridge was built to allow a new queen into Terabithia, for a new queen to explore and imagine the world as only a child can. This novel teaches kids that death happens and we will mourn, but we will also continue to live and love to honor the memories of those we have lost.