Critical Context

Katherine Paterson has written several novels for young adults with similar heroines that offer various perspectives on the same ethical concerns about self-responsibility. Perhaps her best-known work is the Newbery Medal-winning Bridge to Terabethia (1977), in which Leslie Burke, a young girl much like Gilly without the rough edges, teaches Jesse Aarons what life is all about. She tells him that the world is frightening, terrible, and fragile, that it is up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what she has loaned him in vision and strength. In Lyddie (1991), an adolescent girl filled with determination and intelligence must discover, just as Gilly did, that there is “nothing to make you happy like doing good on a tough job.” After Lyddie has faced many external, unfair, and difficult situations in life—such as class, race, and gender inequities—she comes to Paterson’s central theme: “‘I’m off . . . ,’ she said, and knew as she spoke what it was she was off to. To stare down the bear! The bear that she had thought all these years was outside herself, but now, truly, knew was in her own narrow spirit.” In the Newbery Medal-winning book Jacob Have I Loved (1980), the main character and narrator is yet another adolescent girl, Louise, who believes that she has received unfair treatment in comparison to her twin sister (much the same as in the biblical reference to Jacob and Esau on which the title is based)....

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