Bridge to Terabithia is the story of Jess and Leslie — the very bestest of friends. Jess is the only boy in his large family — way too many girls, he has tons of work to do around the farm, his dad works away from home for most of the week to make ends meet, his mom is busy keeping track of his millions sisters… life is tough for hard-working little Jess, who’s about to enter the 5th grade and wants to be the fastest kid around! But then he meets Leslie; she has just moved into town, her parents are writers… she calls them Bill and Judy — and even though she’s a girl, SHE’s the actual fastest kid in 5th grade. They don’t exactly hit it off right away… but then, they click… and they’re inseparable!
Leslie has a beautiful imagination fueled by the many stories she’s read, and her natural ability to create magical worlds with her words. Jess loves being around her, exploring the magic of friendship, and being away from his many daily chores and sisters. Out in the woods, and across a dry creek, they create a world of their own:
“‘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.’ Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop. 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.'”
… and so, Terabithia is born!
Life is great for Jess and Leslie for a good while… they tackle bullies at school, find the best of gifts to exchange, even visit Church on Easter. But as the rain beats down on their town, and the creek leading to Terabithia overflows, Jess’ fears begin to get the best of him. He’s afraid of the water — the fear of drowning begins to be too much for him to venture any more visits to his kingdom until the waters recede. But how can he tell that to Leslie? How can he admit he’s scared? How do you simply lay your biggest secret out in the open… even to your best friend?
Unfortunately, a tragic event prevents Jess from ever telling Leslie his secret. Jess’ reaction (right after denial) is anger: “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.”
Leslie changes Jess for the better. She expands his imagination, encourages his dreams and ideas to flourish, and even makes him king of their small little place in the woods. But then she’s gone… yet Jess is still changed. He is braver, he is kinder, and he is forever indebted to Leslie’s friendship for the gift of every day magic.