Study Guide

Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia Summary

Overview

Bridge to Terabithia is a sensitive, emotionally honest novel about characters who rise above their weaknesses through emotional...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Bridge to Terabithia Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

Ten-year-old Jesse Aarons rises early every morning in the summer, sliding out of bed as soon as he hears his father leave for work. Moving quietly so as not to wake his mother and sisters, he goes down to the cow field to run, challenging himself to improve in speed and endurance. Jesse is determined to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade by the time school starts again in the fall. At Lark Creek Elementary, where he goes to school, the younger boys—those in the third, fourth, and fifth grades—have informal running competitions during their recess periods, as the school's few athletic supplies are taken up by the older children. One time last year, Jesse had won “not just the first heat but the whole shebang” although he was only a fourth grader. This year, the usual winner, Wayne Pettis, will be in the sixth grade and will no longer participate in the races, so Jesse has a good chance of being “the fastest kid in the third, fourth, and fifth grades.”

Jesse has straw-colored hair and a wiry build; he is the only boy in the family, “smashed between four sisters.” His older siblings, Ellie and Brenda, who are teenagers, tend to be self-centered and mean and essentially despise him, while the baby, Joyce Ann, just gets on his nerves. In contrast, May Belle, who is seven, pretty much worships Jesse, which Jesse thinks is “OK sometimes.” Jesse's mom is a harried woman, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the farm and the children, and Jesse's dad, who drives all the way into Washington D.C. every day to work, is always tired and does not have time to spend with Jesse like he used to. One of the reasons Jesse is so intent on being the fastest runner in his class is that he wants to make his father proud.

Jesse's running is interrupted when May Belle calls him to come in for breakfast. He goes back to the house and into the kitchen, where he tiredly plunks himself down at the table. Ellie and Brenda...

(The entire section is 588 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

Since Ellie and Brenda do not return from their shopping trip until after seven, Jesse spends the entire day picking beans and helping his mother can them. The weather is stifling, and Momma is in a very bad temper. At suppertime she is too tired to fix a meal, so Jesse makes peanut-butter sandwiches for himself, May Belle, and little Joyce Ann. The three children go outside to eat where it is cooler. As they look over at the U-Haul still parked at the Perkins place, May Belle says that she hopes the new family has a little girl her age so she will have someone to play with. After they have all finished eating, Jesse goes alone to the room he shares with the little ones, hoping to find some peace.

Jesse lies on his bed and takes out his drawing pad and pencils. He is a talented artist and loves to draw. He especially likes to create cartoon animals, making up stories for them and placing them in “impossible fixes.” He is proud of his work and longs to share them with others, but his teachers look upon his drawing as “wasted time, wasted paper, wasted ability,” and his father scorns his interest in art as being effeminate, unfitting for a boy. The only adult who appreciates Jesse's talent and understands his passion for drawing is Miss Edmunds. Miss Edmunds is the music teacher who comes every Friday to Lark Creek Elementary to sing with the children for a glorious half hour, playing her guitar and allowing them to take turns on the autoharp, tambourines, and drums. Jesse is completely enamored of Miss Edmunds,  but the people in Lark Creek look down on her, calling her “some kinda hippie” and deriding her for not using lipstick and for the cut of her jeans. Change is slow to come in the poor, rural town; it takes Lark Creek a long time to accept what is normal in nearby Washington, D.C., and its “fancy suburbs.”

Before Jesse knows it, it is nearly dark, and his mother is calling him to milk the cow. While he is...

(The entire section is 576 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

Jesse sees Leslie again on the first day of school, when he finds that she is in his class. Leslie comes dressed in faded cut-off shorts, a blue shirt, and sneakers. Although she is clearly an object of curiosity to the other students, who are dressed in their Sunday best, their reaction does not seem to bother her. She sits quietly at her desk and looks back at them with a frank and unpretentious gaze. Jesse is assigned to pass out arithmetic books, and when he passes Leslie's desk, she gives him a discreet wave, to which he responds with a nod. Imagining how it must feel to not know anybody and to find herself dressed so differently besides, Jesse feels sorry for Leslie.

The fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Myers, drags out the textbook distribution process interminably. Jesse is bored and takes out a piece of paper and begins to draw. His domineering classmate, Gary Fulcher, tries to see what Jesse is doing. Jesse covers his paper and a brief scuffle takes place. Mrs. Myers reprimands both boys, threatening to send Jesse into the hall to copy the dictionary if he persists in being disruptive. Jesse puts his head down on his desk and wonders how he will survive the year.

The students eat lunch in the classroom because Lark Creek Elementary does not have a cafeteria. The meal is supposed to be eaten in silence, but Jesse hears some of the girls making fun of Leslie, who has brought yogurt for lunch. When the bell rings for recess, the boys rush out in anticipation of running the first races of the year. Gary Fulcher puts himself in charge, sending the little boys away and dividing the rest into four groups. Each group will run a separate heat, and the winners in each heat will run against each other in a final competition to determine the champion. Jesse is in the last group, which he doesn't mind; he likes the idea of watching to see how well the others do and then surprising them by showing how much he has improved over the summer....

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

Leslie continues to race with the boys at recess every day, and she wins every time. Jesse has resigned himself to the fact that he will never be the best runner in the fifth grade. The other boys, unhappy at the direction their traditional activity has taken, begin to drift off to other pursuits. By Friday of the first week of school, it is clear that the races have come to an end.

Jesse's only consolation is the fact that Friday is music day, and Miss Edmunds is back. Miss Edmunds actually singles him out in the morning. She asks him if he has kept up his drawing over the summer and expresses a desire to see his work. During music class, Miss Edmunds sings a song called “Free to Be You and Me,” and by the time she is on the final chorus the whole fifth grade has joined in. Jesse, “caught in the pure delight of it,” looks over and smiles at Leslie. She smiles back and knows that he is no longer angry about what happened to the races.

On the bus, Leslie sits with Jesse and May Belle and tells them about Arlington and the “huge suburban school” she used to attend, with all its amenities. She acknowledges that she had a lot of friends there, and that her adjustment at Lark Creek Elementary has been hard. Leslie’s parents, who are both writers, have moved to the country because they “are reassessing their value structure,” having decided that they are “too hooked on money and success.” Although the decision to move was made by all of them, relocating has been hardest on Leslie, but she accepts what is happening without bitterness or complaint.

At school, the students in the fifth grade are assigned to write an essay about their favorite hobbies, and Mrs. Myers reads Leslie’s composition about scuba diving aloud to the class. She is insensitive to the fact that by singling her out with such glowing admiration, she is making it even more difficult for Leslie to fit in. After reading Leslie’s essay, Mrs. Myers assigns the class to watch something on television for homework. When Leslie reveals that she cannot do the assignment because her family does not own a television, she is again subjected to the disbelief and contempt of her classmates. At recess, Leslie is harassed further by the girls in her class. Boarding the bus that afternoon, she feels completely demoralized and goes...

(The entire section is 960 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

May Belle is a slow learner when it comes to protecting herself against the malevolence of Janice Avery and the other bullies. Daddy has brought back some Twinkies from Washington for her, and she happily announces this to everybody on the bus. When Jesse tries to tell May Belle to “shut up about those dang Twinkies,” she shrugs off his warning, telling him that he is just jealous because he didn’t get any. Jesse is not surprised when his little sister comes running to him at recess, crying that Janice has stolen her Twinkies. Leslie tries to console May Belle, but May Belle wants revenge. She tells Jesse that he must stick up for her and beat up Janice Avery in her behalf, and when she calls him “yeller,” he knows that...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

Christmas is coming, and Ellie and Brenda both want to get gifts for their boyfriends. There is barely enough money, however, for the family to get presents for May Belle and little Joyce Ann. Brenda insultingly asks Jesse what he is getting his girlfriend for Christmas, and Ellie chimes in, suggesting that Leslie is such a “stick” that she could not be a girl. Jesse is infuriated, partly because the crass cruelty of his sisters sickens him; he cannot understand how they can dare to make fun of someone as pure and noble as Leslie. He is also angry because, although he knows Leslie will not expect anything from him, he wants desperately to give her something of significance.

Jesse’s father has promised to give him...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

In the weeks after Christmas, Leslie has very little time to spend with Jesse in Terabithia because her father has begun repairing the old Perkins place and needs her help. After school and on weekends, he wants her to be home to do the“hunting and fetching” for him as he works—and he enjoys her company. Jesse tries going to Terabithia alone, but it is not the same without Leslie. Because his little sisters are always underfoot and his mother is frequently cross, he does not like to spend his time at home either. Sometimes Jesse goes over to the Perkins place. Prince Terrien is usually “exiled” to the porch to keep him out of trouble, so Jesse takes the unhappy puppy to play out in the fields.

Leslie...

(The entire section is 903 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

It is a very rainy March, and for the first time in many years, the creek bed over which Leslie and Jesse swing to get to Terabithia is filled with swiftly rushing water. Easter is coming, and Ellie and Brenda are already arguing about what they will wear to church. The Aaronses only go to church once a year, and Momma always tries to put aside enough money so that the family will be able to get new clothes for the occasion. This year, however, Mr. Aarons gets laid off from his job, so there is no money for new outfits for anyone.

Ellie and Brenda complain bitterly about having nothing to wear. Ellie suggests that they charge some items, and Brenda says that some people routinely buy clothes that way, wear it once,...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

The weather is dismal during the week after Easter. Jesse and Leslie, disappointed that their break from school is being ruined by the incessant rain, sit disconsolately on the porch at the Burkes’s house on Monday, wondering what to do. Leslie says she wants to go to Terabithia despite the inclement weather, and Jesse responds, “Why not?” Leslie goes in to get her rain gear and to borrow a jacket of her father's for Jesse to wear. Her mother, who is preoccupied with her writing, comes out to greet them. Jesse wonders at the difference between Mrs. Burke, who creates stories in her head, and his own mother, who only watches them on television.

Leslie and Jesse run barefoot across the field with the puppy, joyfully...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

When Jesse wakes up on Thursday morning, it is still raining. He hears his father drive away in the pickup truck; even though he is out of a job, Mr. Burke still leaves early every day to look for work. Jesse gets out of bed to feed and milk the cow. May Belle asks where he is going, and he is at first abrupt with her but makes it up to her by joking around and getting her to laugh before he goes.

Jesse is still bothered by his fear at the thought of crossing over the water into Terabithia. As he does his chores, he reflects on ways he can overcome his terror, reasoning that “he may not have been born with guts, but he [doesn't] have to die without them.” He decides that he will ask Leslie to teach him how to...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

Brenda’s insensitive declaration that his “girl friend” is dead does not at first register in Jesse’s mind. Finally, his father speaks, telling him, “They found the Burke girl this morning down in the creek.” According to Mr. Aarons, the rope they had been using to swing across into Terabithia had broken, and Leslie had apparently hit her head when she had fallen and drowned. His father says he is “real sorry,” but Jesse refuses to believe that Leslie is dead. He turns around and runs blindly out the door, down to the main road, then west, away from Washington and the old Perkins place. Jesse hardly notices when an approaching car honks at him and swerves out of the way. Somewhere in his mind, he gets the feeling...

(The entire section is 640 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

Jesse walks over to Burkes’s house with his parents. As they sit awkwardly in a room filled with strangers, an older woman comes over and introduces herself as Leslie’s grandmother. She tells Jesse that Leslie had told her all about him. Jesse does not know what to say, so he busies himself by petting P.T. His traitorous mind is filled with morbid thoughts; he notes that he is “the only person his age he knew whose best friend had died” and reflects that, because of this, he might be treated specially at school and in his family. He has a sudden curiosity to see Leslie “laid out” and wonders idly if she will be buried in her jeans or perhaps the blue jumper she had worn on Easter.

Leslie’s father enters...

(The entire section is 719 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

On Saturday, Jesse awakens with a “dull headache,” but he goes out to do the milking because he wants things to be normal again. Then, thinking that he would like his paints back, he decides to go to the creek to see if he can find them. It is a beautiful spring morning, and the water level in the creek bed has fallen considerably. Jesse takes a large branch and sets it up bank to bank over the narrowest spot on the creek. He crosses over to the other side, but sees no sign of his paints.

Jesse enters Terabithia, wondering if it still possesses its magic. P.T. is afraid to cross over on the rough bridge Jesse has created, so he swims across the water. Jesse goes into the castle stronghold but does not know what...

(The entire section is 857 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear