#13. Bridge to Terabithia

The first time I watched Bridge to Terabithia, I wept. Not right away, not in front of my family who would scoff (although no one seemed to be able to look right at the television screen during the last twenty minutes). I wept in the relative safety of my room – great heaving sobs that did not make me feel better. Why? Why? I kept repeating. And my sister wandered in and said to me, “I told you not to watch that movie. That is the saddest book I have ever read.”

Now I watched Bridge to Terabithia years and years ago, but the story line was still fresh in my mind when I picked up the book a few hours ago.

Jess Oliver Aarons is a little boy who has four sisters and not very many friends. He spends all summer running in the field near his house so that he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. On the first day of school, however, an unusual girl named Leslie Burke (who has just moved next door to Jess) beats Jess and every other boy in the race to win the title of fastest runner. Although it seems unlikely at first, Jess and Leslie become really good friends and in time create a magical kingdom in the woods close to where they live. Leslie calls the kingdom Terabithia, and in Terabithia, the two have many wonderful adventures, vanquishing their foes and receiving love from their imaginary subjects. Jess has never been happier; he finds himself growing bolder than he’s ever been. Leslie has found a true friend. And then something tragic happens.

I can’t tell if you’re reading this and already know what the tragedy is – but I can tell you what reading the book (while knowing what was about to happen) felt like. On the plus side, whenever the author described a pivotal scene, that part of the movie flashed through my mind’s eye, enhancing my reading of that paragraph or chapter. On the negative side, whenever something sad was about to happen, several feelings built up in my chest: part-dread, part-tension and part-hope – maybe the movie had taken a few liberties with the actual story line, maybe!

Unfortunately, the movie was quite faithful to the book. As I came to the final chapters, I found myself crying again – not dramatically, this time, but with a quiet, adult resignation.

Katherine Paterson’s narrative style is easy, graceful. Two things are clear from the beginning: the story was written for a young audience and it was written a long time ago (judging from the old expressions sprinkled all over the dialogue). Still, the writing is funny and honest and it is not afraid to treat little children’s feelings seriously. Even better, the book does not end on a tragic note. There is evidence of the beginning of healing. There are also a few glimpses of hope.

This is a powerful story, made even more powerful by the fact that it was based on a true story – that of the author’s son, David, and his best friend, Lisa.

Five stars – for the simple reason that I cannot remember the last time a book made me cry.

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