Micah’s Letter Essay : Bridge to Terabithia
I recently completed Bridge to Terabithia, a short children’s novel that was published by Katherine Patterson over 35 years ago. It is one of the most challenged books in the United States and has been taken out of many public and school libraries, supposedly because it is “too” fantastical and includes references to witchcraft. Parents have also stated that this book leads to early child heartbreak; it is on the tragic side for a children’s book. Many churches have called it “un-Christian”, as the children frequently sware and may be viewed as offensive to God. I have owned this book since I was in 4th grade, and even though I didn’t like it the first time I read it, I have learned to appreciate this book for what it is, because the story of friendship and staying strong is both empowering and heartwarming.
Bridge to Terabithia follows young Jesse Aarons, the only boy living with the constant annoyances of his four sisters. He has many responsibilities on his family’s farm, and in addition to school, leaves him little free time. But Jesse geared that time towards running, with his sights set on winning a daily race that takes place during recess. He trained every morning, waking up just as dawn broke to get his running in. So when the new and wealthy Leslie Burke outruns him on the first day of school, he is furious. Jesse is originally unwelcoming to his new neighbor. However, one music class allows Jesse to realize the kind of person Leslie is, and they start to become friends. Together, the two of them venture out and create their own world, in which they are the king and queen. But they find themselves not only defeating the evil that threatens the fantastical kingdom, but the bad that threatens the reality of fifth grade.
I realized that although Jesse Aarons was not as familiar to it, he had a role model. His music teacher, Miss Edmunds came to school every Friday and had done so for only a year, but to Jesse she was the only one he could show her drawings to. Miss Julia Edmunds was the strong character in Aaron’s life that challenged gender norms. She was described as “the only female teacher anyone had ever seen in Lark Creek Elementary wearing pants” (14). Even Jesse’s mother thought she was some kind of hippie. And it was said the Vietnam War ended and everyone could accept hippies, the other teachers and even other students never valued her like Jesse would. Jesse desperately wanted to be an artist, he often sat in his room and drew cartoon animals. Once he told the story of showing his father one of his pieces, only for his father to refuse. He said, “ What are they teaching in that damn school? Bunch of old ladies turning my only son into a-” (14). And Jesse says he never forgot what his dad said to him, even if the conversation happened four years ago, when he was only in third grade.
I think the theme of this book is easily friendship. Jesse and Leslie’s growing friendship helps them grow as people. Leslie helps Jesse overcome something he avoids instead of facing – his father. Jesse, as previously mentioned, loves to draw, but his father views that as a girly hobby and disapproves. But with Leslie’s help, Jesse learns to accept himself, and knows that his father has to accept him for who he is, as his son. Early in the book, on the first day ofs school, Leslie joined the race that Jesse trained for the whole summer. And Leslie’s actions of not only running, but winning challenged gender norms. She was the only girl to run the race, and she was only let in because Jesse stuck up for her. I think this showed Jesse that drawing is not a thing only for girls, as running is not only for boys. Even though Jesse was angry at her for beating her, he was slightly inspired by her efforts to prove herself. As it was her first day of school and she didn’t know anyone, she ran because she wanted to.
I noticed how the author was consistently bringing up how much work Jesse had at his house. This was where the two friends differed. There are things that Jesse is responsible for on the farm; things that would not get done unless he did them. The cow would not get milked, the table would not be set for dinner. It was different for Leslie. Her parents are city people, who moved out to the country so their only daughter would learn to appreciate the smaller things in life. But Leslie was not needed. Needed to make up the family, of course, and to be loved by her parents, but not needed in the way Jesse is needed. I think Jesse is luckier in the way, to be raised in a family that requires him to function. Because then although nobody says it, he knows he is appreciated and loved. And I’m not so sure Leslie’s parents make her feel that same way.
A passage from the novel that interested me is on page 40 when Jesse and Leslie first made Terabithia. This passage perfects explains the impact this fictitious world has on the two best friends.
“He believed her because here in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess’s own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them.” (40)
This passage is important because it not only shows the importance of Terabithia, but the importance of their friendship. How they make each other better, kinder people, who co-rule a kingdom in the middle of the forest.
So 8 out of 10 for Bridge to Terabithia, for it teaches the reader to be the person they imagine, and that a true friend changes lives.
- Micah Rasmussen