Bridge to Terabithia is a sensitive, emotionally honest novel about characters who rise above their weaknesses through emotional strength and generosity. Both Jess and Leslie have special needs, he for athletic recognition to appease a father disgusted by Jess's true interest, art, and she for acceptance from a new school whose students regard her as alien. In the woods near their homes, the children create an imaginary land in which their friendship flourishes away from social prejudice and familial pressure. Terabithia evokes the magic of the childhood forts, tree houses, or clubs familiar to most readers. However, a freak accident that kills Leslie shatters the peace of Terabithia, forcing Jess to seek friendship and understanding in the real world.
The events in this novel hold greater significance than the plot indicates, burying a quest story within a realistic narrative. Jess, Leslie, and most of the minor characters search for love and fulfillment, and the story evokes a strong sense of loneliness and yearning, leading up to Leslie's tragic death. Yet, the generosity and courage this tragedy inspires in Jess and in the parents of both children bring the characters to a new understanding and acceptance of each other.