In Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, the friendship between Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke begins as friendships sometimes do – with a rivalry. Jess thought he was the fastest kid in the fifth grade. Until Leslie moves to town and outruns every boy, including himself. But what they have in common — creativity and clever imaginations — outweighs any time trial on the track. Jess loves to draw. Leslie reads voraciously and is an excellent writer. Their friendship leads them to create a magical world, complete with a castle in the woods near their homes. They name it Terabithia. To reach their make-believe world, they must swing over a creek on a tree rope.
Though Leslie is the new kid on the block, she is fearless and exudes self-confidence. She embraces a challenge and stands up for justice. Jess is often fearful. He feels unworthy to be “king of Terabithia” and admits it would be better to go through life without an arm than be born with no guts. He tries to hide his insecurities and at the same time, admires Leslie’s confidence. When heavy rains swell the creek to dangerously high levels, Jess fears crossing over on the rope swing. He doesn’t know how to swim. While trying to muster up the nerve to tell Leslie he is afraid to cross the creek, he receives a call from his teacher, a last-minute invitation go to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian museums. Jess eagerly accepts, with barely a second thought for Leslie.
Meanwhile, Leslie goes to Terabithia alone. Tragically, the rope swing breaks and she is killed. Jess deals with guilt and grief, and ultimately accepts the gift he received from his friendship with Leslie – bravery.