The friendship between Jess and Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia fills the gap left by their parents who cannot communicate effectively with any of their children. Their backgrounds are very different and at first they do not like each other. Jess is particularly irritated by Leslie's abilities on the field as she wins the races even though she is competing against the boys. Leslie cannot fit in and is bullied and Jess is frustrated, especially being the only boy of four children in his poor family, contrasted with Leslie's wealthy family. Their friendship develops after Jess talks to Leslie on the bus after his teacher, Miss Edmunds, on whom he has a childhood crush, has left him in a particularly good mood, commenting on his drawing ability and encouraging him. "Miss Edmunds was one of his secrets. He was in love with her." Jess and Leslie create their own world and magical kingdom, finding refuge from their troubles.
When Leslie dies in a freak accident, Jess is inconsolable. He feels particularly guilty as he could have invited Leslie to go to the museum but he had not done so because he could spend more time with Miss Edmunds this way. These feelings prevent him from sleeping and he is confused and angry behaving irrationally, even almost forgetting the tragedy momentarily. The reader can understand Jess's pain and his father tries to console him. "You think it's so great to die and make everyone cry and carry on. Well it ain't." Jess's real relationship with his father only develops after Leslie's death. Furthermore, the inner strength that Jess has received from his relationship with Leslie allows him to eventually cope after her death.