Recently made into a motion picture, this is a coming of age tale. Jesse Aarons has been practicing his running all summer. Now as he enters fifth grade he is certain that he will be the fastest runner in his school. Leslie Burke is a new arrival in town, a tomboy of sorts who shocks Jess by running even faster than him.
Leslie’s parents are well to do, a modern, financially comfortable couple who have moved to the country to reevaluate their lives. They have no television and Leslie calls them by their first names. Jesse’s real love is drawing but he is afraid of being labeled a wimp by his family and schoolmates if he lets on. There is, however, one teacher who recognizes his talent, and of course Jess is hopelessly in love with her.
Jess and Leslie form the bond of joint outsiders, and as a part of that friendship they make themselves a clubhouse on the far side of the creek, calling it Terabithia. In their private kingdom they imagine themselves king and queen and imagine royal dealings of various sorts. In sharing this imaginary world Jess is offered the strength to face up to the challenges of growing up.
On a very rainy day, Jess’ teacher offers to drive him to Washington to se the National Gallery, an offer he cannot refuse. While he is gone, the persistent rain swells the creek and Leslie is killed attempting to cross it.
This is a sad tale, however much we might appreciate the growth Jess experiences. The loss of such a wonderful friend hurt, even to read about. It appears that the film version has gone way beyond the intent of the book and focused on wild imaginings in a magical world. The book was much more grounded than that.