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Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

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Leslie's fate, Jess's reaction, the changes in Terabithia, and the development of Jess and Leslie's friendship in Bridge to Terabithia


Leslie's tragic fate profoundly affects Jess, leading to deep grief and a sense of loss. Jess's initial reaction is one of denial and anger, but he eventually finds solace in preserving their shared world of Terabithia. The magical kingdom changes as Jess takes on the role of its king, symbolizing his growth and acceptance. Jess and Leslie's friendship transforms him, fostering creativity and emotional resilience.

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What happens to Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia, and how does Jess react?

In Bridge to Terabithia, Jess has a seemingly perfect day before he finds out the terrible news about Leslie. Jess visits an art gallery with Miss Edmunds, and then they have lunch together. He arrives home and feels elated, but as soon as he walks into the kitchen, he knows something is terribly wrong. His family is there, staring at him silently, and his mother suddenly breaks down in tears. Brenda tells him that Leslie has died.

Jess is immediately in a profound state of shock. His father tries to explain what has happened. He tells Jess that Leslie had tried to swing into Terabithia, but the rope they had been using to swing over the river broke. She fell into the river, hit her head, and drowned. Jess denies everything, accusing his father of lying. He runs out of the house, and as the truth becomes clearer, he runs faster. His father finds him and takes him home, and Jess seems to go numb. He quietly goes to bed.

He wakes up in the middle of night, still not willing to believe that Leslie is gone. He thinks about the next time he and Leslie will visit Terabithia and imagines himself talking to her. He also seems to feel guilty that he did not invite Leslie on his trip with Miss Edmunds, because she would not have died if she had come. The next morning, Jess seems oddly cheery. His father does his chores for him, and his mother serves him a plate of pancakes which he happily eats quietly. When his father comes in and tells him he'd like to go to the Burkes to pay his respects, and thinks Jess should come along, he seems confused, and his father once again has to explain that Leslie is dead. Numbly, Jess puts on a jacket and follows his father.

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How has Terabithia changed since Jess's last visit with Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia?

In Chapter 3 of Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, the first time both Jesse and Leslie enter the section of the woods they dub Terabithia, Jesse notes that the woods are dark and frightening, "like being under water," but bravely follows Leslie into the woods anyway. He further notes the "ever-darkening columns of tall pines" and the various types of trees: the dogwoods, the redwoods, the oaks, and the evergreens. He further notes that the "sun flung itself in golden streams through the trees to splash warmly at their feet" (p. 24). In other words, because she's there, he doesn't focus on and isn't frightened by the darkness. Instead, he's able to note the golden sunlight and feel its warmth.

Later, in Chapter 13, after Leslie has died, Jesse finally gets the courage to go back to their stream by himself. He also bravely builds a bridge to the other side using a fallen tree branch and makes his way into the deep part of the woods they call their "castle stronghold" (p. 67). However, this time, now that Leslie is gone, he only notes that it is "dark and damp" but also notes that "there was no evidence there to suggest that the queen had died" (p. 67). He also decides to weave a funeral wreath of flowers for her and lay it in the grove. He further notes a "brilliant" red cardinal cock his head and "stare at the wreath" as if the bird was giving its approval of the wreath (p. 68).

Hence, both when he first enters Terabithia with Leslie and much later when he returns after he death, he notes the darkness of the woods. Yet, he is still able to notice other beauties of nature and feel brave, all due to her influence.

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How has the friendship between Jess and Leslie developed in Bridge to Terabithia?

Jess and Leslie's friendship develops in an overall healthy direction throughout Bridge to Terabithia. When Leslie first arrives, Jess isn't overtly friendly to Leslie. In fact, he is actually quite cold to her:

"Hi," he or she said, jerking his or her head toward the Perkins place. "We just moved in."

Jess stood where he was, staring.

The person slid off the fence and came toward him. "I thought we might as well be friends," it said. "There's no one else close by."

Girl, he decided. Definitely a girl, but he couldn't have said why he was suddenly sure.

She was about his height-not quite though, he was pleased to realize as she came nearer.

"My name's Leslie Burke."

She even had one of those dumb names that could go either way, but he was sure now that he was right.

"What's the matter?"


"Is something the matter?"

"Yeah. No." He pointed his thumb in the direction of his own house, and then wiped his hair off his forehead. "Jess Aarons." Too bad May Belle's girl came in the wrong size. "Well well." He nodded at her. "See you." He turned toward the house.

Things don't get better in the next chapter either. Jess has had his sights set on winning the recess races, but Leslie comes in there and beats everybody. She steals the glory that he believes that he is going to get, and that doesn't help develop the friendship; however, her running skill does impress Jess enough for him to realize that they have common interests. He even thinks her running was "beautiful":

He couldn't help turning to watch. She ran as though it was her nature. It reminded him of the flight of wild ducks in the autumn. So smooth. The word "beautiful" came to his mind, but he shook it away and hurried up toward the house.

As chapter 4 begins, readers are told that Leslie wins race after race, but Jess is coming to terms with not being the best runner. As Friday rolls around, he is excited for music class. By the end of the class, the music has given him a slight sense of euphoria, and Jess notices that Leslie does too. The two characters smile at each other, and Jess makes a conscious decision to be her friend:

Caught in the pure delight of it, Jess turned and his eyes met Leslie's. He smiled at her. What the heck? There wasn't any reason he couldn't. What was he scared of anyhow? Lord. Sometimes he acted like the original yellow-bellied sapsucker. He nodded and smiled again. She smiled back. He felt there in the teachers' room that it was the beginning of a new season in his life, and he chose deliberately to make it so.

He did not have to make any announcement to Leslie that he had changed his mind about her. She already knew it.

From this point forward, Jess and Leslie's friendship blossoms. They care deeply for the well-being of the other person. Their empathy is wonderful to read about, and they give selflessly of themselves for each other. It is important to note that their relationship is a relationship of pure friendship that doesn't get complicated with romance. That deep bond that the two of them share is what makes Leslie's death so tragic for both the reader and Jess.

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