Katherine Paterson
Bridge To Terabithia
Harper Collins (first published 1977)

ISBN-13: 978-0061975165

Bridge to Terabithia 

"[I]n a year marked with the challenges of isolation and grief, Bridge to Terabithia is a worthy and much-needed companion."

Though you might not be able to find it on a map, Terabithia is as real a place as Narnia, Planet Uriel, or the Shire. It is a land, in fact, of equal force, where reluctant boys confront their fears and lonely girls become regal, a place where imagination is both currency and medicine even - or especially - for explorers travelling from the year 2020. 

On planet Earth, you’d find Terabithia in the young adult fiction section of the local library - or a good book shop - under 'P' for author Katherine Paterson. Her classic, Bridge to Terabithia, first published nearly 45 years ago, remains a literary salve for readers regardless of age, location or era. And in a year marked with the challenges of isolation and grief, Bridge to Terabithia is a worthy and much-needed companion. 

Born to American Presbyterian missionaries, Paterson has long found her way around the power of story and Bridge to Terabithia is perhaps her best-known award-winning novel (which also became a film). The story is inspired by real events in Paterson’s family life, in particular, a tragedy her son faced when he lost a friend. Brimming with the author’s usual compassion and care - both parental and literary - Bridge to Terabithia turns her son’s experience into a novel of belonging and adventure, helping young and older readers navigate the disrupting waters of grief, acceptance and service.

Jess Aarons, the novel’s main character, is the only boy in his poor farming family. He hides his drawings from an aloof father and does his best to survive the wrath of teenage sisters, an exhausted mother and two whiney younger sisters. When he determines to be the fastest runner in his class, to be good at something, he practices every summer day, training early mornings even before doing his chores in the barn. He can hardly wait for the first day of school - until it comes. A new girl outruns everyone, and an unlikely friendship begins.

Leslie Burke is the only daughter of the most unusual people Jess has ever met: writers. The new family has bought the farm next door to the Aarons - they don’t even own a television set - and Leslie calls her parents by their first names. Before long, Jess finds himself taking refuge in the magical worlds in which they live - along with the one he and Leslie create in the woods: Terabithia. There, all is right with the universe as the quiet artistic boy reigns as king and his lonely but clever literary friend becomes his queen. For almost the entire school year, the Kingdom of Terabithia is their refuge and friend.

When an unthinkable tragedy happens to Leslie and her family, Jess dives deep into reality, where fears collide and grief is cruel. Nonetheless, he draws on the gift of imagination rooted firmly in the stories Leslie helped him create, and he musters the confidence to confront the inevitable. In the midst of aching loneliness, he realises he is not alone. And he learns that despite all that has happened, he can cross this bridge and discover courage as real - and possible - as heartache.  

Paterson’s ongoing gift in a story like Bridge to Terabithia is to remind us all that no matter the unimaginable pain of pandemics and job losses and family sorrows, there is always a better place to come. And a bridge that, while wobbly and messy, is just an imagination away.