Bridge to Terabithia is an ambitious, thrilling, and at times heartbreaking story about childhood, friendship, and individuality. Paterson begins the story by introducing Jess Aarons, an elevenyearold boy living in a rural area of the South who loves to run. He dreams of being the fastest boy in the fifth grade when school starts up in the fall, feeling that this will for once give him a chance to stand in the spotlight among his five sisters, and win him the attention of his constantly preoccupied father. Jess is very insecure in his identity. He loves to paint and draw, but he knows that this labels him a “sissy” in most eyes, particularly his father. As Katherine Paterson said “Jess drew the way some people drink whiskey.”
I enjoyed reading about Jess’s confliction between his masculinity and effeminacy. With his family stretched so tight by poverty he has little chance to really explore his own identity during this crucial period of adolescence. He is determined to win in doing something masculine that will rid the undesired label of “sissy” or “Girl” in the eyes of his father and schoolmates which will allow him to shine in his own right. He practices each morning, always dreaming of his upcoming victory. However, when the races come around at recess, a new girl, Leslie Burke, who just moved next door to Jess, boldly crosses to the boys’ side of the playground and beats everyone.