Study Guide

Bridge to Terabithia Friendship

By Katherine Paterson

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"I hope they have a girl, six or seven," said May Belle. "I need somebody to play with."

"You got Joyce Ann."

"I hate Joyce Ann. She's nothing but a baby." (2.4-6)

Here, the characters' expectations about friends are revealed: that they should be the same gender and the same age. While this is a typical attitude toward friendship that a lot of us might share, it's also a reminder that, by narrowing categories for friendship like this, we might miss out. If Jess stuck to these criteria, he wouldn't be able to become great friends with Leslie.

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." (2.49)

Moving from the previous idea, the idea that Leslie doesn't appear overly-girly right away – Jess can't even tell if she's a girl or a boy – might contribute in the long run to Jess's willingness to be friends with her. She doesn't read as "girl" or "boy," but as a "person" and potential friend. The other thing to notice here is that she makes the first move – she's the one who reaches out to Jess, not the other way around. She seems kind of diffident, or shy, here, through her use of "might" and her explanation that "there's no one else" around.

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. (4.15)

This is a really cool description of the moment when you first become friends with someone and you realize that it's happening. Here, Jess also has the power of agency. He "cho[o]se[s] deliberately" to have this thing happen, to create this "new season." For someone like him, without resources or much encouragement, it must feel awesome to take control and introduce such a positive thing into his life.

For the first time in his life he got up every morning with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self – his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond. (4.138)

Like the "new season" (4.15) discussed above, Jess discovers that his friendship with Leslie is constantly bringing him new things and discoveries. She brings joy and excitement to his routine and helps him get excited about experiencing life "for the first time." We can't think of much higher praise to give someone than when Jess says Leslie is not only a part of him but a "more exciting self" – that through knowing her and being her friend, he can get into "all the worlds beyond" what he used to know.

He was angry, too, because it would soon be Christmas and he had nothing to give Leslie. It was not that she would expect something expensive; it was that he needed to give her something as much as he needed to eat when he was hungry. (6.6)

In contrast to the commercial aspects of some Christmas-time gift giving – like May Belle's desire for the Barbie, for example – Jess's desire to give Leslie a gift isn't about displaying his wealth or generosity, or about feeling bad that he doesn't have as much money as she does. Something deep inside him "need[s] to give her something" – because he's her friend, he feels this compulsion to give to her and to make her happy any way he can. We never hear him describe what he wants for Christmas, we only hear him worry about what to get Leslie and how to show her that she matters to him.

He wanted to tell her how proud and good she made him feel, that the rest of Christmas didn't matter because today had been so good, but the words he needed weren't there. (6.23)

The power of Jess and Leslie's friendship is such that it can heal even big wounds and unhappy things like his disappointing family Christmas. Jess's family can't give him what he gave Leslie, or what she gave him. They want to help but they fall short, and that makes them mad. It's not easy or natural, like Leslie's excitement about the dog that Jess gives her for the holiday. Instead, Jess has to turn to Leslie to "feel" "proud and good" – the kinds of feelings that usually come from family but here come from a friend.

There in their secret place, his feelings bubbled inside him like a stew on the back of the stove--some sad for her in her lonesomeness, but chunks of happiness, too. To be able to be Leslie's one whole friend in the world as she was his – he couldn't help being satisfied about that. (7.112)

Jess compares the combination of his feelings for Leslie to a "bubbl[ing] […] stew." Great metaphor, right? This gives us a vivid picture of how his feelings are churning and turning around inside him, evenly mixing between the positive and negative. Even as Jess feels bad for her because she doesn't have other friends, he's happy that she feels as strongly about their friendship as he does.

"She loved you, you know." He could tell from Bill's voice that he was crying. "She told me once that if it weren't for you…" His voice broke completely. "Thank you," he said a moment later. "Thank you for being such a wonderful friend to her." (12.13)

While the timing of this isn't the best – Jess can't really take anything in because of his grief, and immediately starts thinking about how Leslie would've laughed at this – it confirms the news he was so glad for earlier. Their friendship was pure and good, and so important. He mattered to Leslie just as much as she mattered to him. She loved him.

She was scraping at the mud on her bare legs. "I just wanted to find you, so you wouldn't be so lonesome." She hung her head. "But I got too scared." (13.35)

We knew it… May Belle was ready to be Jess's friend all along. He just wasn't yet ready to see it. There was no room in his mind or spirit to treat her like an equal and friend instead of a little sister. May Belle's trying to give him something because he's "lonesome," just like he wanted to give Leslie a great present. Both of them are acting generously towards their friends without thinking about other ulterior motives.

Sometimes like the Barbie doll you need to give people something that's for them, not just something that makes you feel good giving it. Because Mrs. Myers had helped him already by understanding that he would never forget Leslie. (13.57)

Once again, friendship is tied to the idea of generosity. Giving people the things they need is an act of larger friendship. By giving Mrs. Myers praise on Leslie's behalf later in life, Jess thinks he will be thanking Mrs. Myers for assisting him in handling his grief, and also honoring both his memory of Leslie and of his friendship with her.

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