Literature: Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia is a novel by Katherine Paterson, twice adapted to film, first as a 1985 Made-for-TV Movie for PBS, the second as a 2007 theatrical film produced by Walden Media.

Jesse, the main character, is a young boy who lives in a small rural town, not too far from Washington, D.C. A bit of of a loner, he practices running all summer so he can be the fastest in his grade at school. Being the fastest boy sure beats being the quiet boy who loves drawing more than he should. But on the first day of school, his new next-door neighbor, Leslie Burke, completely overtakes him. What starts as resentment and annoyance turns into friendship, an extraordinary friendship, because Leslie is an extraordinary girl. With her gift for words, she and Jesse create a kingdom together in the nearby woods, a castle stronghold to fight imaginary monsters and plot battles to fight real monsters, an adventure that will completely change Jesse's world, a kingdom that they call "Terabithia."

The story has a Bittersweet Ending, and a grade-A example of Death by Newbery Medal. It has been banned on more than one occasion for Teacher/Student Romance subtext and other non-existent sexual content note  as well as religious content and some swearing.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Academic Athlete: Jesse thinks highly of Leslie Burke because she beat all the fifth grade boys in their race and she can impress teachers with her imaginative essays and ability to appear focused in class.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In the film, the setting is changed to the present day, so there's less focus on Jesse wanting to be an artist, which was the main conflict between him and his father in the book. It also doesn't make a big deal about Leslie being a Tomboy.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Jesse's father is Jesse Sr. in the novels, but changed into Jack in the films, probably to avoid the One Steve Limit.
  • Adult Fear: The idea that a cheerful, friendly, imaginative and full of life child suddenly dies in a freak, senseless accident (best swimmer in a class drowning in creek shallow enough to walk through) is utterly terrifying to parents.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Jess is one to Maybelle. Their two oldest sisters are also not pleasant.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: The aforementioned aloof big sisters are brunettes, at least in the 2007 version.
  • Alpha Bitch: Kind of subverted. Janice Avery is a female bully, but she's anything but the stereotypical blonde rich girl who relies on social manipulation. Instead, Janice is large, loud, and relies on physical intimidation, usually the realm of male bullies. She has a Freudian Excuse.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese theme song for the 2007 film adaptation is "To Be in Love" by MISIA.
  • Arc Words: "Close your eyes, and keep your mind wide open."
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason Janice beats up Scott for accosting Jesse. While he was never nice to her, he was friends with Leslie who was nice to her.
  • Belated Love Epiphany: Jesse has a crush on his teacher Ms. Edmunds and doesn't realize how much Leslie means to him until she dies.
  • Big Brother Worship: Maybelle to Jess. Jess finds it mostly annoying.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Leslie dies while swinging on the rope to Terabithia and Jess blames himself for it. Luckily Jess's father helps him accept Leslie's death and convinces him that it's not his fault and to hold onto Leslie's friendship to keep her alive. Jess returns to Terabithia, but builds the titular bridge, and takes his sister with him, offering her the title of princess.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Leslie shows shades of this in the novel, but not in the 2007 film.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: In the novel, Jesse and Leslie both went barefoot (as is seen on the cover) partly because all the shoes they got were hand me downs and also it was not at all uncommon for kids in the 1970s to go barefoot, especially in the country. Averted in the 2007 film.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The film had "Keep Your Mind Wide Open", sung by AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Leslie.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: One of the most famous textbook examples. While killing a little girl might seem a bit brash and unanticipated, the entire story is inspired by a real-life event where a friend of Paterson's son was struck dead by lightning at the age of 8.
  • Evil Redhead: Gary Fulcher in the 2007 film. Though he's more of a Jerk Jock than evil, he's highly antagonistic throughout.
  • First Love: In this Tearjerker of a novel, this trope is subtly implied with the friendship between Jess and his friend Leslie, a girl who introduces him to the titular Terabithia, and this variety of the "special, sweet, innocent" type of first love, on both Jess and Leslie's parts.
  • Foreshadowing: There was a scene in the film where the camera focuses on Jesse's arm becoming robotic and Jesse punching a Squoager. Near the last half of the film, Jesse confronts the Squoager's real life counterpart and punches him. Complete with the camera focusing on the arm, as if Jesse was pretending that it would become robotic.
    • There's also lots of shots of the water rising and the rope close to breaking.
    • At one point Jess is afraid Terrien (the dog) may fall down during crossing and drown. if only it were the dog, like in many other books...
    • Leslie's essay is entitled "Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus", depicts her fictional life as a scuba-diver, and the last few lines talk about how wonderful life is because of how short it is. All foreshadowing her untimely death, as if she knew the whole time.
    • Pretty blatantly at the Easter service, when May Belle asks Leslie "But what if you die, Leslie? What if you die?"
  • It's All My Fault: Jesse doesn't invite Leslie to the museum in order to have some alone time with Ms. Edmunds; Leslie dies crossing the rope swing to Terabithia alone the same day.
  • Jerk Jock: Gary Fulcher, who in the 2007 film is split into two characters - himself and Scott Hoager. The latter seems to take the primary antagonistic role in the film.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jesse's father, Jack Aarons (Jesse Sr. in the novel). He is very strict towards his son, and even harsh at times, but it's understandable given the family's level of poverty. He's also shown to be a good parent in spite of it all, and the scene where he comforts his son after Leslie's death is one of the more poignant moments, especially in the film.
  • Longing For Fiction Land: The main two characters create a fictional world called Terabithia to deal with their school troubles. They are aware that it is a fantasy and wish it were real, although this doesn't stop them for having fun.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Leslie fits the character type in that she's full of quirks, dresses oddly, as well as livening up Jess's world, though it's downplayed in that fact that the two do not get romantically involved.
    • Funnily enough, the film casts MPDG queen Zooey Deschanel as Ms. Edmunds. The character she plays is one of her few roles not of this type. She comes off that way to Jesse, though, compared with the other adults in his life, hence his infatuation with her.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Jess gets a pretty bad deal out of this trope, since he's not only the very-middle child out of five, he's also the only boy. Not to mention his older sisters bully him, Maybelle worships him and the youngest daughter is a particularly bratty baby. Oh, and he's a "Well Done, Son!" Guy to boot.
  • Mistaken for Gay: One of the plot points, and conflict between Jesse and his dad, revolved around this trope. Set in the 70s, Jesse was into art and only had a girl for a friend, so his parents were quite uncomfortable with him spending so much time with Leslie.
  • Mood Whiplash: After Jess and Leslie befriend, they bond through their imagination to form the fantastical world of Terabithia. Then Leslie dies.
  • The Namesake: The titular "bridge" finally appears in the last chapter, when Jesse builds it.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Quite possibly the most baffling case in the history of cinema. The trailer for the 2007 film made it seem like a Narnia-esque fantasy movie where Terabithia was real. Apparently, the filmmakers were none too pleased with the way the movie was marketed, either. Especially since the key screenwriter was David Paterson, the son of the original author and on whom Jesse is based. This also led to confusion with fans who hadn't read the book, as they watched the movie waiting for Terabithia to 'become real' only to realize it doesn't.
  • Outdoorsy Gal: Leslie invites Jess to swing over the riverbed to discover the land of Terabithia.
  • Outnumbered Sibling: Jesse, with his four sisters.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Leslie is better at running than the boys and is teased for it, but makes a friend in the main character, who got her the chance to run.
  • Precocious Crush: Jesse has a crush on his music teacher, Ms. Edmunds.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: There's the music teacher Miss Edmunds who is described as having long swishy black hair and blue, blue eyes. Lord, she was gorgeous.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The real-life inspiration for Leslie was Katherine Paterson's son's childhood friend, Lisa Hill who was killed by a lightning strike while climbing some rocks on a beach. The author originally intended to finish off Leslie the same way but ultimately changed it to a drowning because she felt it would be more believable. Probably right, but ironic.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: In the film when Jess punches a kid taunting him, the teacher talks to him about grieving the loss of a loved one when it appears he's about to be punished.
    • A similar thing happens in the book, only instead of punching a kid, Jesse didn't stand for the national anthem.
  • The '70s: The early post-Vietnam War era, referenced throughout the book but abandoned by the movie.
  • Ugly Cute: Jess describes Mae Belle as this.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Ms. Edmunds invites Jesse to come to the art museum with her, and Jesse doesn't invite Leslie, sealing her fate. Jesse knows this and regrets it.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Jesse's relationship with his father.
  • Wham Line: "We thought you were dead!", quickly followed by the much more wham-ish "Your friend Leslie is dead".
  • Wham Shot: The Aarons' reactions once Jesse comes home from the museum.
  • Write Who You Know: An in-universe example the 2007 film. Jess and Leslie base the creatures and inhabitants of their imaginary world off of people they know. In particular, the Squoagers and Hairy Vultures are monsters based off the bullies Scott Hoager and Gary Fulcher and even resemble them to a degree. The troll is based off Janice Avery, and does a Heel-Face Turn after Leslie comforts her, while the Dark Master is based off Jess's father, and disappears at the end, when the two of them finally understand one another. The wish-fulfillment of this arguably helps them both - but Jess in particular - to grow stronger in Real Life as well.

Alternative Title(s):

Bridge To Terabithia