In a quest to read popular childhood books that I overlooked at the time, Bridge to Terabithia called to me. And thank goodness that it did - I can't believe that I went thirty years before reading such an incredible book.
One of the most beautiful and haunting coming of age tales I've read, Bridge to Terabithia follows the strong friendship of Jess Aarons, a self-described "weird kid" with a talent for drawing and the misfortune of being the only boy in his family, and Leslie Burke, an imaginative, kind-hearted child of "hippie" parents who moves to the area just before the school year begins.
As Leslie and Jess enter the fifth grade, it's clear that she is different. She beats all of the boys in a foot race on the first day of school and later naively reveals to the entire class that she doesn't have a television, sparking ridicule by most and a protective instinct in Jess.
Jess is completely annoyed by Leslie at first, her having ruined his plans to be the fastest sprinter in the school, but cannot deny that she has an incredible spirit. With her imagination and his steadfastness, they create a world of their own in the woods near their homes. Leslie bestows the name Terabithia and within it, they rule as kind and queen.
Together, they face problems both inside and outside of Terabithia. From marauding attackers to the school bully, they work as a team. A snap decision and seemingly selfish act leads to tragedy and Jess soon realizes how much he has grown since meeting Leslie.
It's a fast read, being that it's a juvenile book, but its lessons and themes resonate strongly. I can't even imagine how I would have dealt with this book if I had actually read it when I was ten years old. I'm guessing that I would have been absolutely gutted. And I'm guessing that I would have loved it just as much as I did twenty years later.