Book #65

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his 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 girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.
That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they 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.

This wasn’t a book I ever read in childhood, which is why I feel I’m missing some of the magic. I actually had a few problems with it, on which I will try to keep my commentary spoiler free.

Although the first two thirds of the novel seems to try and focus on character and relationship building, both were lacking here. We see Jess and Leslie become friends, see a little of what makes them tick, and yet they still seemed to be caricatures of ten year olds to me. Leslie was not like other girls, a trope I truly detest, and Jess was keeping his hobbies secret in case anyone decided to slag him off for them. Nothing tangible seemed to encourage their bond, nothing tied them together, they just banded together and that was that.

I appreciate this was published in the seventies, but there were a lot of sections here which made me wince. Excessive use of fat jokes, or fat shaming, weird behaviour from a teacher, the idea we should keep our parents secrets no matter what they do to us, and various other little oddities.

Most of all, I disliked the way Jess dealt with his grief and how Paterson was seeming to say this was okay. The timing of the death was also ominous to me, and I didn’t understand what Paterson was trying to convey, whether she was trying to place blame, or to suggest that bad things happen when we have some luxury. The whole thing felt incredibly rushed; this is a kid’s book, no wonder so many were traumatised as kids.

So flat, confusing, and with questionable messages. I couldn’t explain to you why this book has won awards.