Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson

Available as: hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 163
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: October 28, 1977
Suggested tags: middle grade, realistic fiction, classics



From Goodreads:
"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.
"

I first read this book as assigned reading in fifth grade, and it's stuck with me ever since. Some details faded out in my mind over time - I remembered the main plot, but I couldn't remember the details about Terabithia... Did they really travel to a fantasy kingdom? Or was it all in their imagination? I consider it a sign of Paterson's talent that she made reading about their time in Terabithia so exceptional for me that as I grew up I could not remember if it was real or imagined.

Jess and Leslie do create Terabithia out of their imagination, but it becomes a real place for them and begins to take on a sense of realism in the book as well. But it seems that some people don't like that, as I discovered when I was looking for books to read to celebrate Banned Books Week and found Bridge to Terabithia on the list of banned and challenged books. According to the ALA website, it's been challenged for "occult/Satanism, offensive language." The website Banned Books Awareness expands upon this:
"At issue with censors are death being part of the plot..., Jess’ use of the word “lord” outside of prayer, offensive language, and claims that the book promotes secular humanism, new age religions, the occult, and Satanism. Some critics also proclaim that Leslie is not a good role model simply because she doesn’t attend church."
Oh no! Leslie doesn't go to church and Jess uses "lord" in a regional dialect! Hide the children! And, and, Leslie and Jess are *using their imaginations* to create a kingdom where they rule, which contains a sacred place where they send up generic prayers and positive wishes to no one in particular. Clearly, this is Satanism - this is secular humanism, new age religion, occult, and Satanism! Because children who use their imaginations to create beautiful places where they feel safe and happy and connect with nature obviously must be evil.

... The hell? I mean, seriously. This makes me really upset. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But for someone to declare that no one should be able to read this book, that it should be removed from libraries and schools, just because it contains things that they themselves don't agree with is madness. And those are my feelings for any other banned or challenged book too.

*dismounting soapbox*

In my opinion, Bridge to Terabithia is a truly beautiful book that covers a lot of issues with a gentle yet meaningful touch. For me, it speaks strongest about friendship and loss. Jess and Leslie's friendship develops in a way that many of my own middle school friendships did - uncertain at first, but then suddenly strong and perfect and natural. And then, the tragedy. (SPOILER - highlight to read: I don't remember feeling a sense of dread when I first read the book in fifth grade; I just remember all of a sudden it was announced that Leslie was dead. But rereading it now, I definitely felt some foreshadowing and suspense as Jess worries about crossing the rising river. It nearly broke my heart when he was invited out with his teacher and wanted to invite Leslie, but decided not to. Again, I didn't think of this when I was younger, but reading now, I felt the full weight of his guilt and regret right along with him when he finds out that Leslie has died while he's been out seeing things that she would have loved to have seen with him.)

I have a feeling middle grade readers and older readers might take away different things from this book, judging by how differently fifth-grade me and adult me experienced the book. But I think that's what makes it beautiful, and what makes it earn its place as a modern classic.


Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars


{ I read this book to celebrate Banned Book Week 2014! }


{ Favorite quotes from Bridge to Terabithia }
" 'Ain't 'cha gonna run?' she asked.
'No,' he said, shoving the sheet away. 'I'm gonna fly.' "


" ' We need a place,' she said, 'just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.' ... She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. 'It might be a whole secret country,' she continued, 'and you and I would be the rulers of it.' "


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 there---like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.


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 fragile? (Handle with care---everything---even the predators.)


{ More about Katherine Paterson }

Katherine Paterson's Goodreads profile
Katherine Paterson's website

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