BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Paterson, who has already earned regard with her historical fiction set in Japan, proves to be just as eloquent and assured when dealing with contemporary American children--and Americans of very different backgrounds at that. Jess, from an uneducated family in rural Virginia, has been practicing all summer to become the fastest runner at school--a reputation more desirable than his present image as "that crazy little kid who draws all the time." But Jess is beaten in the first race of the fifth-grade year by a newcomer--who is also the first girl ever to invade the boys' part of the playground. Soon Jess and Leslie, whose parents have moved from the suburbs because they're "reassessing their value structure," become close friends. On her lead they create Terabithia, a secret magic kingdom in the woods, and there in the castle stronghold she tells him wonderful stories. . . about a gloomy prince of Denmark, or a crazy sea captain bent on killing a whale. She lends him her Narnia books and lectures him on endangered predators. . . but he teaches her compassion for a mean older girl at school. Indeed Leslie has brought enchantment into his life. Then one morning, with the creek they must swing over to reach Terabithia dangerously swollen by rain, and Jess torn between his fear of the maneuver and his reluctance to admit it, he is saved by an invitation to visit the National Gallery with his lovely music teacher. The day is perfect--but while he is gone Leslie is killed, swinging into Terabithla on their old frayed rope. Jess' feelings range from numb denial to rage to guilt to desolation (at one point the thought occurs that "I am now the fastest runner in the fifth grade")--typical grief reactions, but newly wrenching as Jess is no representative bibliotherapeutic model. By the end, he is ready to think about giving back to the world something of what he had received from Leslie. You'll remember her too.